Pastoral Insights

We Can Do No Good Thing Without God

Fr. Gordon Hines, Rector, St. George's Anglican Church

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We Can Do No Good Thing Without God

We Become Like That Which We Worship

Fr. Gordon Hines, Rector, St. George's Anglican Church

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We Become Like That Which We Worship

Easter Day, 2012

Fr. Gordon Hines, Rector, St. George's Anglican Church

From the Song of Solomon, “…the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come …” (2:11-12)

I would like to preface this homily by quoting something the great Anglican poet and literary critic T. S. Eliot wrote in 1956, “I don’t believe that any religion can survive which is not a religion of the supernatural and life after death in some form. I think that the end of a purely materialistic civilization with all its technical achievements and mass amusements is simply boredom. A people without religion will, in the end, find there is nothing to live for.”

If there is any wisdom in age, I think we all know how beautiful and sometimes difficult life is, but also how fragile and transitory life is. To me the beginning of the Christian life is to realize we are loved personally by the very source of life, by God, our Creator.

God cannot be defined. Any definition would limit Him. In the Old Testament, when God appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush, Moses asks, “Who are you?” And God answers, I AM THAT I AM, YAHWEH, the Hebrew name for God. This is a perfect theological statement.

In the New Testament, St. John went so far as to define God when he said, “God is love.” This puzzled and bothered me until I realized that divine love can be a definition for God, because God and love are both infinite. We cannot separate the love of God from the love of life.

Today, we celebrate the great Feast of Easter Day and the gift given Fallen humanity of eternal life through Christ’s Resurrection. Perhaps the greatest mind of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo of the 300’s A.D., offers keen insight on the inseparable link between the love of God and life, in his remarks on the heroism of the martyrs.  He said their heroism consisted of just this: “They really loved this life; yet they weighed it up. They thought of how much they should love the things eternal; if they were capable of so much love for thing that pass away….”

He writes further, “I know you want to keep on living. You do not want to die. And you want to pass from this life to another in such a way that you will not rise again, as a dead man, but fully alive and transformed. This is what you desire. This is the deepest human feeling: mysteriously, the soul itself wishes and instinctively desires it….”

Reflecting on St. Augustine’s words, brought to mind a true story I once heard in seminary by one whom I regard as the consummate storyteller, Archbishop Robert Morse.  He once said he had a wonderful old secretary named Lou who had worked in his church office for years. One day she announced to him she was retiring.  Shortly after her retirement he noticed she hadn’t been to church for two Sundays. When he called on her she was laid up in the hospital.  He told her, ‘Lou, I want you to get out of here.’  ‘You get better.’  Then he said, ‘I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.’  ‘I have to go out of town.’ She told him, ‘Have a good trip.’  Then she said, ‘I won’t be able to see you again.’  These unexpected words struck him hard and he broke down in tears. She said, ‘Compose yourself.’  ‘I’ll see you again.’ ‘I’ll see you again.’ That afternoon, she died. The reassurance she gave him was, ‘I’ll see you again.’  ‘I’ll see you again.’”

The great 20th century Russian philosopher, Vladimir Solovyov, in his masterpiece, The Meaning of Love, wrote, “We do not begin to believe in eternal life for ourselves, we only start to believe in eternal life for those we love.” We know this is true when our loved ones die for we continue to love them beyond the grave.

Just like St. Peter, we all can respond to the question of the Risen Christ, “Do you love Me?”  We all, even Peter, can repeat the words of St. Augustine, “Late in life have I loved thee.” Each of us is late in loving God.  When you and I muse on the past and present of our lives, we can see we are just now beginning to love God.  The renewed hope offered to us this Easter is the Risen Christ can awaken us to eternal life and love in Him.

In the magnificent novel, Dr. Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak, there are some wonderful poems at the end. One of these is entitled, Holy Week, and the final verses read:

And when the midnight comes

All creatures and all flesh will fall silent

On hearing spring put forth its rumor

That just as soon as there is better weather

Death itself can be overcome

Through the power of the Resurrection.

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Overcoming that ‘Better Than Thou’ Attitude

Fr. Gordon Hines, Rector, St. George's Anglican Church

Overcoming that Bettter-Than-Thou Attitude

“The Gospel Reading for today’s message is taken from the sixth chapter of St. Luke, beginning at the 36th verse.”

“BE ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.

I am certain each one of us can recall when we were young, being labeled by our peers, siblings or parents; branded a name that, we felt, would forever define us.  “Oh, you’re the geek, the jock, miss popular, or Tony’s brother. You’re that bad kid, that poor student, or that goody, goody.” Make a blunder, acquire a bad habit, say or do a silly thing, or look a certain way, and those actions bring judgment. I knew of a child who was only two, who was called by her parents, “The Beast,” because of her, at times, bad behavior. With such a mark of disparagement on her person, I wonder what she is like today.

Being young, at an impressionable age, struggling to figure out who we are, it is easy to accept the opinions of others and to carry those into our adulthood. These scars of degradation can still cause us pain today.

Worse, as adults, we are in the crosshairs of being judged at any moment, whether by our past, present or perceived sins.  Maybe you have recently been refused an invitation to a wedding or party, or have been cut off by a friend or family member. A judgment has been made that you are not worthy to be in their presence.  Mind you, if you caused a scene at a social gathering, or threatened violence, it may take time to rebuild their trust before you are admitted back into their presence – there are those we must love from a distance. But, oftentimes, such judgments are done from baser, sinful motives, such as spite, jealousy, pride, or anger.

Our Lord’s teaching from the Gospel of St. Luke is that we are not to judge, but rather, we are to be merciful, as our Father in Heaven is merciful (Luke 6:36). This isn’t to say we are to wink and ignore bad and destructive behavior in others. We are called by God to discriminate, to discern between right and wrong.  However, before we go further, before we take action to deal with evil in others, our heart must be in alignment with God’s, we must see others as He does, as a merciful Father, who is described as the “lover of souls.”

We can now know the heart of God the Father and how we are to emulate His mercy, through His Son, of whom Isaiah prophesied, “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench :…(Isa. 42:3)

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Christmas Day

Fr. Gordon Hines, Rector, St. George's Anglican Church

Spending time reflecting on birth of Our Lord brought to my mind a true story once told by our now retired Archbishop, Robert Morse. It was about an event in the life of a friend of his who is a very successful New York architect and artist. Late one night he shared with the archbishop this story from his youth.

His friend said he was raised with his two older sisters in an orphanage for girls run by strict polish nuns. The reason he was the only boy in the convent was that the good sisters thought he was too young to be separated from the only family he had left; his two sisters; but he was, as the only boy in the convent placed apart and sent by himself to the local public school. He made friends with another lonely little boy who was the child of some impoverished Eastern European immigrants who were barely inking out a living.

When he was about eight or nine his public school friend asked him to his home for Christmas Eve.

The first person to arrive was a huge uncle who dragged in an ungainly Christmas tree that had been given away at the last moment by the salesman who couldn’t sell it and wanted to close the Christmas tree lot.

Then they all poured in: aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, parents, and stray friends. Everyone brought some thing for the tree – something of themselves: pieces of colored string, popcorn, cookies, food, tin stars cut from the bottom of cans, candles, old handmade ornaments, discarded Christmas bows, and brightly fastened wrapping paper, and personal gifts.

When the last decoration was placed on this now transfigured tree, the lights were lit!  They all formed a circle around it – hand in hand – old and young. He said they wept with joy at the wonder, the beauty, the Glory of their tree and sometimes now on Christmas Eve he remembers that happy circle of poor immigrants with tear filled glistening eyes – loving – laughing faces – lost in rapture, in awe before that beautiful tree. He said to the archbishop, “That was my first, my only glimpse of Heaven.”

Many things plague us, and strive to negate the meaning and purpose of life. But then we, like the orphan in the story, can, on occasion, have moments when we suddenly perceive the objective essence of beauty, of God’s presence in the everyday events of life. This is the essence of our religious experience, where we feel at home, knowing that we belong to something greater and glorious.  Our secular and materialistic society denies the restless young fulfillment through the Divine dimension of Glory in their lives. The Church exists that Glory might be experienced, discovered in God.

These moments can most often come to us at times when we give ourselves to God and each other. This is the whole meaning of Christmas, of love born among us; love as defined in Christ is self-giving.

May we give ourselves anew to Christ this Christ-Mass and into the New  Year. When we do we may capture a glimpse of our true Home, giving us encouragement to press on that we might behold our beloved, Christ Jesus.

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