Saturday, December 31, 2011

Breathing Lessons

1 January 2012 The Feast of the Holy Name
Or, The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. You can look up its history in Wikipedia. You will find that it has been celebrated on many different dates. January 1 is quite possibly the most logical, since in the Jewish tradition of Jesus, baby boys are circumcised and name on the eighth day, and January 1 is the eighth day after Christmas.

Naming is important throughout the Bible. The opening acts of creation are the naming of things, beginning with, “Light!” That is what God says. The “Let there be….” is added to make it “sound better” in English.

Then in Deuteronomy, I believe, God orders the building of a more permanent domicile than the “tent of meeting” or “tabernacle” – a Temple is to be built to exacting specifications: “Then there shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; there shall you bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow unto the LORD.” Deut 12:11

Note the important distinction here. Unlike other temples in the ancient world of the Hebrew people, God does not dwell in the Temple – only God’s name.

As to God’s name, Moses learns this at the burning bush: “4God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ 15God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”: This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations.” Exodus 3:15-16

That would seem to have settled it, but alas, we humans are not so easily convinced. We have a need to name things ourselves, no doubt a carry-over from our ancestor Adam who was given the task of naming all the creatures in God’s creation in hopes of finding a soul mate. We didn’t stop there, and have multiplied the names of God out toward infinity, which is in itself a rather amazing if not puzzling concept.

The tradition of Jesus has as the most formal name for the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus four naked consonants: roughly YHWH in our alphabet, yodh-he-vav-he in Biblical Hebrew. Biblical Hebrew had no vowel markings. Reading the text correctly depended on oral tradition passing on the pronunciation from one generation to another. Further complications include that when the Masoretic text was formalized with vowel markings (6th – 9th centures ce), those in charge intentionally put the wrong vowels with YHWH since it has long been forbidden by tradition to pronounce the divine name in public. The vowels assigned are for the word Adonai, which also roughly means God for our purposes, but just is not the proper name. And so that is what is read in synagogue when YHWH shows up in the Torah texts. (This was mistakenly corrupted into Jehovah several hundred years ago by gentiles who had no idea what they were doing – Jehovah not being a “real word” at all.) Whenever Jesus says, "I am," his first century constituents would associate him with the great "I Am" of the burning bush.

Why all this background on this Feast of the Holy Name? It is fascinating to note that in less than the first hundred years after Jesus rose from the dead, he was assigned no fewer than 200 different names in New Testament literature! The first, of course, is Jesus, the name told to Mary and the Shepherds by the angel. “The Word,” or in Greek “The Logos,” is perhaps the most mysterious, assigned by the author of the Fourth Gospel in its majestic opening verses.

Emmanuel, or Immanuel, however, stemming from an otherwise obscure verse in the writings of the prophet Isaiah (7:14), may very well be among the most important names given to the child circumcised eight days after his birth. It means quite simply, “God with us.” That, as it turns out, is the sense of the opening verses of John – the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. Jesus is God dwelling among us. This is the scandal of Christianity.

Now the Hindus and the Greeks were quite comfortable with the idea of manifestations of God living among humans, messing with us, cavorting with us and so on. The Hindus and Greeks were and are comfortable with “God” (eg Brahman) having many names, many manifestations. It turns out that when we look more carefully at our tradition, we share this same comfort. It is one of the curses of radical monotheism that we tend to convince ourselves that One God can only have One Name. Just google “Names for Jesus” and you will find over 200 options that accrued in the first century. The Quran lists no fewer than 99 names for the One God, Allah.

Among the names for Jesus is the idea advanced by Isaiah and John that Jesus, the Word, the Word that is with God and is God, is also Immanuel – God with us. Jesus is God. God is with us.

So the Holy Name we honor with this feast is nothing less than the Holy Name of God – Jesus, Immanuel, the Word, I am who I am, Yahweh. We throw “Jesus” around rather casually and indiscriminately. We pretend to know all about him, when in fact God is ultimately unknowable and yet knowable all at once.

I would like to end with this short chapter from Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now as it pertains to God’s Holy Name, YaHWeH, I am who I am, The Great Unspeakable Name:

"This unspeakability has long been recognized, but we now know it goes deeper: formally the word was not spoken at all, but breathed. Many are convinced that its correct pronunciation is an attempt to replicate and imitate the very sound of inhalation and exhalation. The one thing we do every moment of our lives is therefore to speak the name of God. This makes it our first and our last word as we enter and leave the world.
"For some years now, I have taught this to contemplative groups in many countries, and it changes people faith and prayer lives in substantial ways. I remind people that there is no Islamic, Christian or Jewish, way of breathing. There is no American, African, or Asian way of breathing. There is no rich or poor way of breathing. The playing field is leveled. . The air of the earth is one and the same air, and this divine wind "blows where it will (John 3:8) - which appears to be everywhere. No one and no religion can control this spirit.
"When considered in this way, God is suddenly as available and accessible as the very thing we all do constantly - breathe. Exactly as some teachers of prayer always said, 'Stay with the breath, attend to your breath': the same breath that was breathed into Adam's nostrils by this Yahweh (Genesis 2: 7); the very breath that Jesus hands over with trust on the cross (John 19:30) and then breathed on us as shalom, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit all at once (John 20:21-23). And isn't it wonderful that breath, wind, spirit, and air are precisely nothing - and yet everything!
"Just keep breathing consciously in this way and you will know that you are connected to humanity from cavemen to cosmonauts, to the entire animal world, even to the trees and plants. And we are now told that the atoms we breathe are physically the same as the stardust from the original Big Bang. Oneness is no longer merely a vague mystical notion, but a scientific fact!"
- Richard Rohr, The Naked Now (Crossroad, New York: 2009) p. 25-26

So this is what The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus offers us: the insight that every breath we take from first to last is “saying” the Holy Name of God. Be attentive to each breath. God is with you. The Word dwells in our very midst. This is not only good news, it is the best news! What more could we possibly want? Amen.
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek
Saint Peter's at Ellicott Mills

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gaudete Sunday - Rejoice!

11 December 2011/Advent 3B –Magnificat/Psalm 126/1 Thessalonians 5:16-24/John 1:6-8,19-28
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
Advent Wreath: Part 1
Advent means “coming.” What is coming is the coming of Christ – as in “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.” For four weeks before Christmas Christians reflect on this promised return of Christ as we prepare to celebrate the feast of his birth – the baby Jesus, Emmanuel – God with us.

Ancient Northern Europeans often made evergreen wreaths long before Christianity. According to Wikipedia: “The circle symbolized the eternal cycle of the seasons while the evergreens and lighted candles signified the persistence of life in the midst of winter. Some sources suggest the wreath—now reinterpreted as a Christian symbol—was in common use in the Middle Ages, others that it was established in Germany as a Christian custom only in the 16th century.” With some scholars insisting it was adapted in 19th Century Germany. All that is clear is that it was first a so-called pagan practice adopted by the church well into the Christian era.

One notes that as we light a new candle each week in Advent, the days are getting shorter and darker. Until that day when a new light shines in the darkness – Christmas – the birth of Jesus, of whom Saint John writes that he is the light that shines in the darkness, the darkness has not overcome the light, the light is the life of men.

There is a story about the evergreen trees and shrubs. When the great Creator Spirit was creating the world, he wished to give a gift to each creature. He set up a kind of a contest to determine just what gifts would be most fitting for which living things he had placed upon the earth. In the deep of winter he ordered all the trees of the forest to stay awake and keep watch over all creation for seven days and seven nights, and those that did would receive a special gift.

Well, the trees were all so excited to have been given such an important task that none of them could even think of sleeping the first night. Over the next few nights, however, one after another started falling asleep, until finally on the seventh day only the firs, balsams, spruces, hollies, junipers, and laurels were still awake and keeping watch. The great Creator Spirit proclaimed, “You have done well! I will give you the gift of being green year round so that in the dead of winter other creatures may find shelter and care among your branches!”

Advent means to remind Christians that we are those people called and chosen by God to be watching and waiting, keeping guard over all creation – for so God did create us, male and female, in God's own image, that we might rule and serve all God’s creatures and all of creation.

We are called to be an Evergreen People – others are meant to take refuge among our branches. We are to watch over and care for those in need. God came to us as Jesus to help us to remember who we are and whose we are – who we were created to be in the first place. We are to be the light shining in the darkest days, ever green in the most barren, cold and difficult times and places. Advent is a time for us to think on these things as we watch and wait for Christ to return to our lives, our hearts and souls. Prepare him a place in your heart and become an evergreen person of God. Amen.

Advent Wreath: Part 2
Although traditional Advent Wreathes have red or purple candles, and sometimes a white “Christ” candle in the center, the Sarum usage at Salisbury Cathedral in England calls for blue candles – symbolizing “hope” and “waiting.” Advent is a time of hope and waiting – hope and waiting for the coming of Christ.

No one knew this better than Mary – a mere teenage child by today’s standards. Traditionally the Third Sunday of Advent shifts our focus to Mary, and often a rose colored candle is used on this Third Sunday. Called Gaudete Sunday – Latin for “Rejoice,” a key word in all of our scripture for today. Though one well might ask just what a young, pregnant teenage girl has to rejoice about!

The clues lie in our scriptures that reveal the history of our people, the people of God. Writes St. Paul to the Church in Thessalonika, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing....for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." For years I have found this to be the most mysterious and probably most important task we are given - to pray without ceasing! Pray always. May all of your life be a prayer. All that we do and all that we say is meant to be a prayer. How does one do this?

Mary knows. When all is said and done, the babe is born, the shepherds have shared the news with anyone who will listen, we are told that Mary ponders these things in her heart. I suspect she began her pondering back with the angel Gabriel announcing that she, a young girl, unmarried at that, would bear a child - and not just any child, but God's child. It is the kind of news that is likely to set you to ponder many things.

I have come to think that this pondering, or prayer without ceasing, finds its origins in something like centering prayer. And that once one has entered the realm of oneness with God and with others, all kinds of prayers begin to manifest themselves. Look at Mary. The Magnificat, The Song of Mary, bursts forth from her pondering heart.

Like Paul, she too speaks of Rejoicing "in God my Savior." All this pondering has helped her to feel blessed. And then she has a vision - the proud shall be scattered, the mighty cast down, the lowly lifted up and the rich sent empty away! It is an animating vision. One that were I to hazard a guess still animates people all around the world, from Occupy Wall Street, Main Street, Whatever Street, to the streets of places as far away as Russia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen.
For those of us who do not spend much time pondering, do we even recognize that what Mary sings about, what Mary's poetry proclaims, amidst a climate of military occupations, mortgage foreclosures, monstrous indebtedness and the like - do we even recognize that what she imagines the Lord can do is happening before our very eyes?

Gaudete Sunday is a time to Rejoice with Mary, with the Psalmist in Psalm 126, with Paul, and even with John the Baptizer who is pictured going to great pains to point out that he is not the one they are looking for, but The One is here. The Advent Wreath means to draw our attention to all this on this Third Sunday of Advent as we find ourselves once again sitting and standing before what is perhaps one of the strangest and yet most wonderful images of Christ's real presence - Jesus hanging in the palm trees.

Not so strange, however, in the middle east, in Israel, where date palm trees are the coin of the realm. The date palm is thought to be The Original Tree - the one "in the Garden of Eden." (Or, "Inagodadavida"...for those of a certain age)

When one is in Israel one notices that every olive wood crèche, large or small, has a palm tree in front of the shed. And that might not be something you notice all that much until you learn that 1) all the olive wood crèches are made by Muslim artisans in Bethlehem, and 2) the palm tree plays a key role in the Koran's portrayal of the birth of Jesus.

It may come as a surprise that Mary is venerated as a woman among women in Islam, and that as she is in labor she grabs onto a palm tree. A voice, thought by some to some from the child in her womb, tells her that there is a river flowing beneath the tree, and to shake the palm tree so dates will pour down to nourish and relieve the pains of childbirth. The tree shakes, the dates rain down, a child is born. The same story appears in an apocryphal gospel of Matthew as well!

So whether it is the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, or the tree that mid-wifed the virgin birth, Jesus is surely at home in those trees - perhaps even crucified on a date palm where he hands over his spirit, his breath, his life to any of us who will receive it.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Have a blessed Gaudete Sunday as we watch and wait for our Lord to enter into our lives. Let every heart, prepare him room so we are ready to receive him as he hands his Spirit over to us. Amen.

Friday, December 9, 2011

In Memoriam Myra Maureen Frazier

In Memoriam
Myra Maureen Frazier 1968-2011

Martha and Mary were sisters. Their brother Lazarus had been sick. They had called for their dear friend Jesus, knowing that He was of God. The text is clear, it says “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” He delays going, and when he does go his disciples try to talk him out of going because the region around Bethany was too dangerous with people trying to stone him and others already conspiring to have him arrested. As further sign of his deep love, Jesus replies, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”
Meanwhile, Martha and Mary are at home sitting shiva, the Jewish custom of mourning. Friends and neighbors surround them, much as we come to be with Myra's family and one another as we seek comfort and consolation at having lost “our friend,” Myra. Word comes to the sisters that Jesus has approached the outskirts of Bethany. Always the practical one, always the one seeing to it that others needs are met, Martha goes to meet Jesus before he gets to the house. She has some business with him that is better kept at a distance from the house and those who are comforting the family – she seems to want to spare them hearing what she has to say.
And what she has to say is what we all want to say at a time like this: Lord, if you had been here, Lord if you had heard our prayers, Lord if you had done something, come sooner, our brother Lazarus would not have had to die! Martha is not a shy one. She may appear so while taking care of others, busy behind the scenes, but when the times demanded it she could stand up to anyone, including Jesus.
Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again. Martha, believing he is talking about some hypothetical future when all the dead shall rise again says in effect, “Sure, sure, we all know that, but I am talking about now.” Jesus responds, “I am now. I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha immediately knows he is right. Martha immediately sees Jesus as if for the first time – He is of God, He is resurrection, He is life. And speaking on behalf of all of us here this morning, and for all people who mourn at all times and in all places, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, the text continues, she went and told Mary who got up and left the house to go see Jesus, and everyone in the house followed. Jesus saw Mary and everyone with her weeping and was “deeply moved.” They go to the tomb, Jesus calls Lazarus out, and orders everyone, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
This is the hard part. This is the hard part for all of us: letting go. We are here because we love Myra and all that she was, is and continues to be: daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, friend, and someone who reached out to help those in deep need, the underserved, and this earth, our fragile island home. It is doubly hard for everyone here, since it is likely to be some time before we have any idea exactly how she died, how it is that she has been taken away from us.
What we can be certain of, however, is that Myra had courage and desire like Martha to tackle two of the most important problems facing the world today: the ecology/environmental problem and the economic problem. Myra was out in front, like Martha, alerting us to what can be done in both arenas, and doing something about it. Lives have been changed, and the very structure of the earth has been changed and preserved as a result of her dedication, knowledge and will.
As we come to mourn and comfort one another, we also come to remember and celebrate the life of this remarkable woman.
Myra received her law degree from Duke University
She began her nearly 15 years of experience in the energy and environmental fields as a Fulbright Fellow in Libreville, Gabon, Africa.
She later worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency implementing technical cooperation between the US and South African Governments, focused on energy plicy planning, air quality management and climate mitigation strategies.
Myra also worked on the litigation team that negotiated the Consent Agreement Final Order with the Concentrated Animal Feedlot industry - an agreement accepted by over 8,000 farms in 37 states.
Recently she has been a contract attorney for a variety of energy and technology companies,
And perhaps her greatest passion has been working to help families in Maryland avoid foreclosure on their homes.
And here at St. Peter's she has been an extraordinary advisor to our Green Team, and has served on the Bishop of Maryland's Task Force On The Environment for the past few years.

Several people have submitted Tributes to Myra which we would like to share with you now....


The most basic truth of the Judeo-Christian religion is that we come from Love, we return to Love and Love is all around. God is Love. Myra now knows this. Just as Martha goes before everyone else to greet Jesus at the edge of town, so Myra has gone ahead of us to meet and be greeted by her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Myra has been and will continue to be so much a part of God’s love surrounding us on all sides – she brought us all closer to God, closer to each other and closer to ourselves. What a wonderful life’s work!
How fitting that the church is decorated for Easter – The Feast of the Resurrection. The Paschal Candle, first lit on Easter Eve in the darkness shines brightly - the light that shines in the Darkness, the light of Christ. The Light that John says the Darkness has not and cannot overcome. It stands near the Baptismal Font, marking that place where we enter into the fellowship of Christ’s Body, the Church, The entry point into eternal life.
For we are those people who believe that life is changed, not ended, at death. And when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.
Once baptized into the body of Christ, St. Paul asserts "neither death, nor life, nor angels , nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Myra knows this to be true. She has been unbound. She is set free. She now joins with Martha and all those who throughout the ages proclaim, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
So we come to mourn. We come to comfort one another. We come to remember and celebrate and give thanks for a life faithfully lived and more faithfully set free. And we come to affirm our faith, Myra's faith, and the faith of the Church.
A Catholic priest and monk, Henri Nouwen, observed on the death of his mother: In those confusing weeks after my mother’s death I said to myself, “This is a time of waiting for the Spirit of truth to come, and woe unto me, if by forgetting her, I prevent her from doing God’s work in me.” I sensed that something much more than a filial act of remembering was at stake, much more than an honoring of my dead mother, much more than holding on to her beautiful example. Very specifically, what was at stake was the life of the Spirit in me. To remember her does not mean telling her story over and over again to my friends, nor does it mean pictures on the wall or a stone at her grave; it does not even mean constantly thinking about her. No. It means making her an active participant of God’s ongoing work of redemption by allowing her to dispel in me a little more of my darkness and lead me a little closer to the light. In these weeks of mourning she died in me more and more every day, making it impossible for me to cling to her as my mother. Yet by letting her go I did not lose her. Rather, I found that she is closer to me than ever. In and through the Spirit of Christ, she indeed, is becoming a part of my very being.
[In Memoriam, p. 60]

Myra is now at one with God's light, the Light of Christ. She came to this church week after week and affirmed this. She stood in this church week after week the past few years to affirm her faith in Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let us stand, turning to page 496 in the Red Book of Common Prayer, and In the assurance of eternal life given at Baptism, let us proclaim our faith: