From June of 1996 until July of 1998, we worshiped with the good people at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Conway, Arkansas. After we moved to Houston, I entered into an arrangement by which the weekly sermons would be sent to me.  I would then publish then on the web. Here is a note I wrote at the time, describing the way it worked.

 

 

 

St. Peter’s faxes these sermons in their original form to Dan Hamblin in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who then sends them to his daughter, Carrie Hamblin, in Knoxville, Tennessee. Carrie transcribes the sermons, then emails them back to Dan in Indiana for final editing.

 

From there, Dan sends the sermons via email back to Rod Kilduff in Conway with an HTML version to Randal Byrd in Houston, Texas. Randal makes a few minor adjustments in the code and then uploads the new pages to his ISP in Houston.

 

That is how these sermons make it to the WWW. Yes, it’s a roundabout way of doing things, but it works. We hope you enjoy.

We archived sermons from August, 1998 through April of 2001. Then for reasons I can’t recall, we stopped.

Then Vicar of St. Peter’s, the Reverend Greg Rickel (Now Bishop of the Diocese of Olympia) gave this sermon on August 2, 1998. He began with a blessing for our retiring Vicar the Rev. Peggy Hays and her husband Steele. (The lectionary readings assigned for that day are at the bottom of the page.)


Gracious God, you set our feet upon many paths, and where you lead, we are not always certain. Peggy and Steele, as you depart from us, we send you with these words of blessing.

May Jesus Christ our Savior:
 Bless you with courage where the way is fraught with danger or dread;
 Bless you with graceful meetings where the way is lonely;
 Bless you with good companions, especially each other,
         where the way demands a common cause;
 Bless you with night vision where you must travel in the dark and keen hearing
        where you will not have sight
        so that you can hear the reassuring sounds of fellow travelers;
 Bless you with humor because we know you cannot travel lightly
        weighted down with gravity;
 Bless you with humility to learn from those around you;
 Bless you with decisiveness where you must move with speed;
 Bless you with love, given and received;
 Bless you with the knowledge of God’s presence wherever you may be
         and the knowledge of our love for you as you travel your way;
 May God lead you into exile, until you find that on the road is where you are
        and where you are, is coming home. We bless you, We love you, We will miss you.
 May you safely go, bearing as you always have – the Gospel of Life. Amen.


The Sermon

It is a bittersweet day. There is no better word for it. And it is a bit more bitter than sweet for me and I am sure for most of you. It is good to be home; that is sweet. It is good to see all of you; that is sweet. But, even with that, it is bittersweet. I have just come from over a month of advanced education, which included a preaching course. In that course we were taught that of all things in preaching we should be especially careful with two principles and we should always think twice about straying from these two principles. The first is the use of the lectionary. This is the set texts that we have to read each Sunday of each year on a cycle of three years. They are there. I don’t pick them and they say this is good because then we preach what we are given and not what we are necessarily prone to preach. I like that idea most of the time.

The second principle is to never get really personal with things. Don’t expound on yourself or another person. One should always be careful with this so that you are preaching the Gospel and not something else. I like that most of the time too…

But, today I am going to break both of those principles. So much for higher education. Five weeks of tuition and time down the drain! Well, I am not going to break those principles exactly. I am sticking with the lectionary, although I did add a few lines to Ecclesiastes. But the Gospel is as is, and I was astounded by that really. I was so amazed that when I first looked at these readings I just had to read them to Marti and she was equally intrigued by what we were offered for this day and this occasion.

I am going to stray from the second principle because I wish to share some things about Peggy and Steele Hays, and in the process of that, if you will bear with me, I think, I hope, you will see that I have actually honored both principles… If not, so be it.

This reading from Ecclesiastes is often seen as a dreadful kind of “fatalistic” reading. Both Ecclesiastes and Job are often seen like that. You see, Job is a book that asks the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people who walk in faith?”

Ecclesiastes asks the exact opposite question. “What are the rewards for good people who walk in faith?” Both books have taken on an aura in the Christian world which is a bit confusing and leaves us with a lot of uncertainty. We see the writer in Ecclesiastes say to us, that no matter what we do which is good, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. Seems pretty useless. But many people, perhaps you, look at this passage and sense a positive nature about it.

Something inherently good. That is my sense. The writer in Ecclesiastes continually uses the words: “under the sun,” “done under the sun,” “toiled under the sun,” “used my wisdom under the sun,” “labors under the sun.” This seems to be here for a very important reason. It is not just some descriptive prepositional phrase used to spice up the sentence.

In the hands of this writer, “Under the sun” means something. The great good in this book and Job is that both make it clear that whether we are good or bad means little. “Under the sun” outside, or under heaven, in this world, bad things will continue to happen to good people and good things will come to those who least deserve it. And we will be sitting in the middle of it all wondering what kind of God could be in the midst of this.

The writer of Ecclesiastes seems to say, “under the sun, all is vanity, but when we walk with God, in faith, all is honored and even, perhaps, all is good, even though it is difficult to think so sometimes.” That is a real switch.

“Under the sun” everything is fleeting. Under the sun all is passable. Even in Luke today, we see the farmer wishing to hoard in order to live well “under the sun.” And the lesson seems to be… it never works. That is not where wholeness comes from.

A person and anything we come in contact with – our money, our jobs, our families, our possessions – are only truly holy once we realize that they are all fleeting. They are gifts, everything is, nothing is truly ours. Only when we are willing to give these toils of our lives, the harvests of our lives, our labors, away, do they become holy, something that transcends “under the sun” and is seen for what they truly are, in God, and God in them. Looking at it that way – that is what Leigh Ann and Ted do today – letting go of Sophia, realizing she’s part of something greater – not a possession but a gift. We see that nothing truly belongs to us, we don’t possess a thing, “under the sun”.

In Peter Dumitriu’s work, Incognito, it may be said as well as anywhere. In this book as he is being tortured by the Central Committee in the old USSR, he says the following: “What is difficult now is to love the world as it is now, while it is doing what it is doing to me, and causing those nearest me to suffer, and so many others, to love and pardon them, even to bless them, for they are one of the faces of God, terrifying and sad. “Yet, if I love the world as it is, I am already changing it; a first fragment of the world has been changed, and that is my own heart. Through this first fragment the light of God, His goodness and His love penetrate into the midst of His anger and sorrow and darkness, dispelling them as the smile on a human face dispels the lowered brow and the frowning gaze.

“And around me the divine machinery of evil pulses like the plunging of pistons, cruelty, vengefulness, greed, envy, stupidity, selfishness, arrogance. “And mingled with them are gentleness, innocence, friendship, trust, solidarity, fidelity, mother-love, and the love of lovers, charitable work, security of spirit, prayer, and holiness. “I have been merged in the town and the things that make the town, people, buildings, and machines, all the devices of civilization, which are as much a part of God as the rose or the earthquake, the shoal of fish or the work of art. “Nothing is outside God.”

Dimitriu has moved from “under the sun” to into the sun, and into God and it makes all the difference. “Under the sun” bad things still happen, but the writer in Ecclesiastes and Job and Demitriu all sensed something more, something that transformed “under the sun” into new life, a life nothing “under the sun” could touch. It is a bittersweet day, certainly for me, right now, it is more bitter than sweet. You, along with me, say good-bye today to two folks we love.

We all know it is not good-bye forever, a you-are-moving-to-the-North-Pole- and-we-will-
 never-see-you-again good-bye but it is an end and, especially with good ends, comes the bittersweet.

It is odd how things sometimes turn out and it is strange what happens to us in life. That is the very message the words of Ecclesiastes shout at us today. In a sense we – Peggy and Steele, Sophia, all of us – are mired in that same place today. After all, it is our life really.

Having said I would break the second principle regarding good preaching, I have told you many times about when the Bishop came to tell me the “possible” places he had for me to spend my curacy. He said he had three possibilities.

He first mentioned St. Peter’s, Conway, and Peggy Hays, and I still, to this day, do not know what the other options were. I didn’t need to. What a gift to be able to spend our first years of this new life with a mentor like Peggy, at a place like St. Peter’s.

And you have been a true mentor, not as that word is thrown around sometimes, but a true guide and companion on the way and I am grateful.

This summer I was reintroduced to Philips Brooks, former Rector of Trinity Church, Boston, former Bishop of Massachusetts and one of the finest preachers ever. In one of his lectures regarding the work of the preacher Brooks says this,

“One of the most remarkable things about preachers’ methods of work is the way in which they form themselves in the earliest years of ministry, and then rule with almost despotic power to the end.

“I am a slave today, and so I suppose is every minister, to ways of work that were made two or three years after beginning to preach… “They are the years when a preacher needs to be very watchful over his discretion and his independence. “When the clay is in the bank, it matters not so much who treads on it. And when the clay is hardened in the vase, it may press close upon another vase and yet keep its own shape. “But when the clay is just setting, and the shape still soft, then is the time to guard it from the blows or pressures that would distort it forever.”

Peggy was a close guard for me and a potter of utmost care and skill, and I shall be thankful for that forever. Steele, too, has been a model for us. You have shown with such grace and power the way to live out our Christian walk.

You have been a fabulous model for a clergy spouse and just a darn good spouse in general, and you have taught us worlds in the way you have supported Peggy in her ministry and in how you have, often quite silently, carried out your own. Thank you.

To this entire congregation both of you have been guides. I have said before that I had heard of this prophet, teacher, healer, practicing her craft in Conway, Arkansas, long before I knew Peggy Hays. I never knew one person could master all those attributes but I had not known Peggy.

Someone said to you, in my presence, in this last few months, that they did not know what the world would be like without you in it, and what they would be like if they had not had you in their life. I am sure there are many such feelings in the hearts of those here today and many that aren’t here today.

Now I am going to continue to break that second principle. Before I left for Sewanee, I attended a conference at Virginia Seminary entitled, “Gathering the Next Generation.” It seems the Church Pension Fund has figured out that there are less than 300 priests in the Episcopal Church under the age of 35.

They asked me to give a workshop for this group and since I was just 18 days from not qualifying to be in the group when they met, I thought I better take them up on it. During that conference a paper was presented regarding the future of ordained ministry. I could not get to the microphone to offer my rebuttal so I sent it out to all those who attended, feeling it was that important.

The paper presented was written by a young priest who made a plea for the church to stop, or at least to greatly curtail, sending mid-life persons to seminary. I felt compelled to write the rebuttal for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I believe God is big enough to honor all gifts, no matter how old we are.

I further wrote that “I cannot imagine the Church not having the benefit of Peggy Hay’s leadership, preaching, and teaching and I cannot imagine my ministry without her mentorship, companionship, and friendship. She will be part of my ministry always and, in me and in the lives I touch, her ministry will live on for a long time.”

Such is the power of sharing ones time and energy with another. Such is the gift that you, Peggy, have given me and each of us.

I will miss your lovely prayers, your ability to calm a place, your ability to put us in sight of the kingdom where we could actually feel it, and simply your presence. I will miss holding the elements, the holy food, the gifts of God for the people of God, with you at Eucharist.

Most of all, I will miss your shoulder to lean on. I hope the telephone, the next best thing to being there, will prove itself. I am sure I will use it once or twice.

I will miss the many possibilities that may have been, while knowing that this new way opens up yet others. It is a bittersweet day, and there is a special sweetness in it, since today we baptize Sophia Allison Warriner. She reminds us of what we have all been ordained to do and be in our baptisms. She reminds us that there is a time for everything.

So, it is a bittersweet day, and it is a bittersweet life we live. That is exactly what the message is for us today. But in Peggy and Steele Hays we see the answer to the question of Ecclesiastes: What are the rewards for good people who walk in faith? Peggy and Steele’s lives help us turn “under the sun” to under heaven, and in the process help us realize that we don’t have to physically move to make that transition. It is our hearts that change.

“Under the sun” becomes “under heaven” where there is a time for all things, and God is in them all. Peggy and Steele are living examples. Their lives tell us, the reward is love, true love, vanquished by nothing, never vain, always rich, better than anything “under the sun.” Thank you for that lesson. You are dear to us. We love you.

Amen


Ecclesiastes 1: 12-14; 2: [1-7, 11] 18-23; 3: 1-12

I, the teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me – and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This is also vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
        a time to be born, and a time to die;
        a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
        a time to kill, and a time to heal;
        a time to break down, and a time to build up;
        a time to weep, and a time to laugh
        a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
        a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
        a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
        a time to seek, and a time to lose;
        a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
        a time to tear, and a time to sew;
        a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
        a time to love, and a time to hate;
        a time for war, and a time for peace.
What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live.

The Gospel Lesson: Luke 12: 13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

 

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