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The Chalice
Sunday, January 26 2020

"Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return" (Annie Dillard).

In the book of Acts, we are told that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on earth is the joining of the earth and heaven in the Kingdom of God. We pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” God is active at St. John’s and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to witness to the love of God and to be the light of Christ in a land of darkness.

The Good News is that Jesus came to show us that God loves us, equips us with the gifts we need to respect and love one another, and gives us what we need to live an abundant life. We are a healthy and active church in the Diocese of Long Island. If we are healthy, it is because of our relationship with Jesus Christ and our willingness to witness to that love. If we are active, it is through the grace of God, in the love of Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We can shine a great beacon of light because everything we do comes through the peace, love, and grace of God. Ask yourself this, "If St. John's were not here, would it make a difference to this community?"

My hope for the coming year is that the 275th Anniversary will light a fire within our hearts. This past week a group from St. John’s went to St. Augustine’s to the MLK service. Fr. Anthony sang in the choir and gave the closing prayer. They sang of their love of Christ and of the hope that the work started by Martin Luther King Jr. will continue. But what really touched my soul was the passion in the dance and singing of the children, youth, and adults. They truly witnessed to their deep faith and love of God.

At St. John’s, we can witness to our faith by coming to church, worshiping and praising God, and being sent out to the community to love and serve Christ. We are a parish in an ever secular, fast moving, polarized, and violent world. Paul asks us to, “be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” In other words, we are all one in Christ. Please be confident that God has the strength to bring us to the Kingdom, that place where heaven and earth intersect, if we will only allow ourselves to see the light of Christ and be drawn out to where we can never return.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian” (Isaiah 9:2-4).

In Christ’s love,

Fr. Duncan

Posted by: Rev. Duncan A. Burns AT 10:46 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, January 19 2020

The Journey of the Magi - T. S. Eliot

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp.
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away and wanting liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

When I think of the traditional story of the magi in the gospel, I most often recall pageants, at least the ones my children were in. Camera at the ready, all was recorded for posterity, that is if the flash attachment worked accordingly. Fifty years ago, I didn't focus on the deeper implications; no T. S. Eliot version for me, nothing that would call into question all too easy associations that didn't raise any important responses. Way back then, my journey into Christ didn't encounter any obstacles, largely because it was rather superficial, an equation grasped easily, a life without doubts, and certainly no voices telling me that the journey “was all folly.” Following the star seemed a piece of cake, at least on Sunday mornings, for an hour, until I actually began to encounter the “three trees” of Golgotha, the “white horse” of John's apocalypse, the “vine-leaves” of the Eucharist, the soldiers at the foot of the cross “dicing for pieces of silver.” And more, certainly. The encounter altered the nature of my journey, changed the course of my life, a slow process accompanied by occasional perplexity, but in the end leading to a new life in a risen Lord that was much more rewarding as well as more demanding. What is the nature of your journey?

Fr. John+

Posted by: AT 10:51 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, January 12 2020

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching (Isaiah 42:1-3).

The Gospel of Mathew weaves together scripture from both the Old and the New Testament. Mispat in Hebrew means justice. Justice is relationship with God that brings the servant to do the will of God. As we explore the Gospel of Matthew in the coming year, we will constantly be looking at Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. At St. John’s, we celebrate our 275th by following our mission, To Know Christ, and Make Him Known. Please draw nearer to God by listening closely to the Word of God in the coming year that we might know Christ intimately and witness to his love, hope, and mercy.

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem (Acts 10:34-39).

At St. John’s, we proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. By this we mean that the grace and forgiveness of God is offered to everyone. At St. John’s, we proclaim that “all are welcome” which means that we believe that God shows no partiality. This does not mean that God approves of everything that people do, but that we are called to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. Part of living in community is understanding that we do not all agree on what is right and acceptable to God, but that through the Word of God in the person of Jesus Christ, we can get a glimpse of God’s grace and mercy.

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well please” (Matthew 3:16-17).

Jesus comes out of the river, still wet from the waters of baptism and goes to the margins of society. He heals the sick, gives hope to the poor, and becomes the servant that he is called to be. Jesus then teaches how to give your life for the sake of others. This is what we mean by the Epiphany. God’s will is manifested in the actions of the Son. Jesus doesn’t worry about what the powerful are going to do to him, he prays and heals everyone he meets with a broken heart, every person that is lonely, sick, hungry, alienated and suffering. Jesus gets into the muddy waters of our messy lives and shows us the way to new life. God up in heaven loves us so much, that God shows us this path of emerging from this water into new life. In Baptism we are fully initiated into the body of Christ by the pouring of the water and by the indwelling of the Spirit. God has acted in our lives in the waters of Baptism, filled us with the Holy Spirit, and we have the power to emerge, as faithful witnesses to the love of God.

In Christ’s love, 

Fr. Duncan

Posted by: Rev. Duncan A. Burns AT 10:57 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, January 05 2020

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,
and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,
what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is
the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:15-19a).

It is my prayer that you will have the “eyes of your heart enlightened.” Paul begins with a compliment to the Ephesians because he has heard of their faith. He assures them that God is working through them and there is immeasurable greatness of his power. In the third chapter of Ephesians Paul said, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” This spirit of revelation and wisdom is the knowledge that God loves us and gave us God’s only Son that we might have abundant life in this world and eternal life in the next.

I was watching 60 Minutes last week and one of the people on the show came to the realization that love is the key factor in the world. He said that even though we all know the importance of love in the world, we often get distracted by all that is going on in our lives. He turned back to love as the most important factor in his life and his life took a tremendous turn for the better. At Christmas, we experience the eternal love of God in a crude manger in Bethlehem. Kings travel from the East to pay homage to Jesus Christ. God calls us to fill our hearts with this love and share it with others.

Our first act of love should be thanksgiving to God in heaven for the birth of Jesus Christ, who came to enlighten the eyes of our hearts. Our next act of love should be to those around us. When loving God and loving our neighbor are combined, our brain stops playing the fear and anxiety video that leads our reptilian brain to increased heart rate and stress. We play the hope video that leads our brain to a healthier pattern of rational, moral behavior. This in turn sends the signal to our reptilian brain to produce endorphins, lower our heart rate, and reduce our stress. Most of us are aware that when we listen to music that triggers happy memories, laugh, exercise, have sex, or eat certain foods, our brain triggers the release of endorphins and other chemicals in the pituitary gland which gives us that sense of being in a euphoric state. Likewise bad experiences and traumas trigger feelings of pain, fear, and anxiety. Since we all experience these triggers to different degrees, we need to love one another in the knowledge that we have all been damaged by the actions of others and are all in need of love and comfort. We especially need to care for those who are most vulnerable and least likely to be loved and comforted.

Christianity leads us down a rational, moral path that helps us to feel good about ourselves and trigger that feeling of contentment and satisfaction in our lives. Instead of selfish, egotistical, controlling and sometimes hurtful behavior, we follow Jesus Christ in self-giving, humble, loving behavior. This leads our brain to a healthy pattern of releasing chemicals that give us a sense of wellbeing. A healthy diet, lots of clean drinking water, loving relationships, exercise, and good sleep contribute to a happy and heathy life.

In Christ’s love,

Fr. Duncan

Posted by: Rev. Duncan A. Burns AT 10:00 am   |  Permalink   |  Email