Tuesday, October 18, 2011


In north Wales, along the coast, there is a little town called Holywell.  It gets its name from a legend that dates from the 7th century about a beautiful young woman named Fride.  The name is the Welsh version of "Brigid," as in St. Brigid of Ireland, and harks even to pre-Christian days when the goddess Brigid watched over the hearth, the family and the flocks.

Fride of Wales was born to a pagan chief and a Christian mother.  She was baptized into her mother's faith and as she grew the call to become a nun grew apace within her.  But her beauty was desired by a neighboring prince, Caradog.  One day as she was in the field he found her and sought to have his way with her.  She resisted, and fled toward the church where her uncle, Beuno, was saying Mass.  When he saw that his intentions were frustrated Caradog flew into a rage, drew his sword and cut Fride's head off.

Beuno heard the commotion and came outside the church. He at once took in what happened and cursed Cardog, who melted into a mist and sank into the ground.  He then scooped Fride's severed head and placed it again on her body.  She was revived to life, became a nun and lived out her days in convents in the area.  Where her hed hit the ground a spring erputed, and it soon became a place of pilgrimage and a site of healing.  Beuno took to washing daily in the spring, standing on a certain stone.  The prefix "wini" was added to Fride's name, which means "Glorious," and the site became known as Winifred's Well.  Depictions of Winifred always show a hairline scar around her neck, something she is purported to have had to her dying day.

In the 14th century a shrine was built, and the spring was encased in a stone frame in the shape of a star.  From there the water runs out into a large pool about four feet deep.  The water is fresh out of the ground and is very cold.  Beuno's stone is fixed to the bottom of the pool.  People come from all around to seek healing.  They walk around the perimeter of the pool three times saying the rosary, and then they dip themselves in the frigid water three times standing on Beuno's stone.  It may sound superstitious to our ears, but the pile of crutches left behind by those who have been healed is testimony to a greater reality.

Landon and I watched people come and endure the cold-water ordeal--and it is an ordeal!  I sat for a time with my legs dangling in the water. Within minutes my toes were aching and numb.  It was obvious that it took more desire for divine help than for creature comforts to complete the discipline.  Their faces were supplicant and patient, hopeful and supremely humble.

One young couple came with their two children, a boy of about 10 and another of about 2.  The little one was in a stroller, and he had his arm in a sling.  Obvously the parents had come to seek healing for the little boy.  Instinctively I asked his name.  "Paddy," they said.  I knelt down, made the sign of the crosss on his forehead, blessed him and prayed for his healing.  When I looked up mother and father and friends were looking at me with wide and expectant eyes.  Would I bless them, too?  "I'm Anglican, not Catholic," I protested, but that meant nothing to them at that moment.  I went down the line pronouncing a blessing on each one, and receiving 100-fold in return myself.

These peoples' faith looked a bit different than mine and may be less educated than mine, but in many ways they put me to shame!

Our Rightful Home

Pentecost 19, Proper 25, October 23, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore
There once was a king who lived in a kingdom far, far away and a long time ago.  He lived with his queen in his castle, but he was very sad.  He had no children, and that made life lonely.  But soon enough the queen shared the happy news that they were going to have a child.  A beautiful baby girl was born to them, and they were not sad any longer.

They noticed that the baby had just the same shape of nose as her father, and everyone thought it was cute!  They decided to throw a big party and invite all the important people in the kingdom.  The day was set, invitations went out, and people began to arrive for the big day.  The party started, and all was going very, very well.  The whole kingdom was happy with the new little princess.  The food was yummy, the decorations were fun, and everybody was having a good time.

But, just at the height of the party a man in a dark hood stole into the castle.  He made his way to the crib with the baby princes, and before anyone could stop him he scooped up the baby and disappeared into the crowd.  Police were called, they searched and searched, but could not find the hooded man or the baby princess.  Heartbroken, the king and queen called off the rest of the party and sent everyone home.  And they cried and cried that night for their baby girl.

The years passed, and the king and queen grew older.  A son was born to them, and everyone remembered the daughter who had disappeared so many years before. They remembered her with love and longing.  The son grew up to be brave and strong and handsome, everything a kingdom would want in their next king.  And he had his father's nose, and people said he would have his father's wisdom and kind ways.

One day the young man was out traveling through a neighboring kingdom.  He came across a young woman working in a field.  Her clothes were dirty and torn, her hair was uncombed.  But what caught her attention was her nose.  It looked just like his.  Quietly he approached her.  She was a little afraid to speak with a prince, but he quieted her fears, and pointed out that they had noses that looked alike.  That made her laugh.  The prince asked where she was from.  She said she had been sold as a slave when she was a small girl, and had worked for her master all her life.

The young man went home and told his aging father.  The father immediately gathered soldiers, they went to the house where the young woman lived, there they found an old man, the one who had bought the girl.  The king said, "You see your slave girl's nose?  You see mine?  You see my son's?  You have a princess for a slave!"

But the man said, "In this kingdom slavery is allowed.  I paid a high price for her.  You cannot just take her away from me."

So the prince, the king's son, pulled out his money bag and said, "What do you want for her?"

“She is very expensive. She is a good worker, she will cost you all that you have in your money bag.”  Gladly the son emptied the money bag on the table, and bought his sister back into freedom.

Oh, the rejoicing when the princess came back to the castle.  They combed her hair, and gave her beautiful clothes to wear once again, and the whole kingdom came to welcome her home.

Well you might wonder why I told you this story.  This morning a beautiful young lady is going to be baptized.  Baptism is like bringing the princess home.  We are all born children of God, the great and wise King of the Universe.  But sin stole the human race away, and we lost contact with who we really are.  We became slaves to sin, who was not our real master at all.  So Jesus, God's son, came to earth, and found us, He paid a very high price to buy us back again, He died on the cross and rose again, just for us.

And now, we bring a princess back to the castle.  We say, "Though we were all once slaves to sin, now, by the grace of God, we can return to our rightful home and live with our father, our brothers and sisters, and all the people of God!"

And just as the princess in my story had to get new clothes and have her hair combed, so we, in this family, share with those newly returned, what it means to live in God's family.  We teach them how to say thank you for rescuing us and bringing us home by the things we think, say and do, by gathering with one another on Sundays, and by sharing what we have to help rescue and bring back other children of God who have not yet been brought back to the castle.

This morning we baptize a young lady of 10 years of age.  She will become your sister in Christ, she is another princess in this castle of our King and Father.  Remember her in your prayers.  As you see her encourage her, walk with her, show her how to express her gratitude, and let her know how special she is.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Context, Context, Context

Pentecost 18, Proper 24, October 16, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

Last weekend a significant event happened in the world of college football.  A momentous game was played between the University of Texas and Oklahoma University.
Unfortunately, the game was decidedly uneven.  The final score of 55 to 17 is an embarrassment to UT fans all over the world, I spoke on Monday to a former member of St. Christopher's who happens to be an OU fan, even she was embarrassed!  But it is not fair to consider that this is the nature of the game between these two teams.  There is a larger context into which to put this.  This "Red River Rivalry" goes back more than 100 years, some other decidedly unbalanced games were:
1908: OU 50, UT 0
1952: OU49, UT20
1956: OU 45, UT 0
1973: OU 52, UT 13
1986: OU 47, UT 12
1987: OU 44, UT 9
2000: OU 63, UT 14
2003: OU 65, UT 13

The only "blow-out" in UT's favor was 1909, OU 0, UT 30.  This makes it look like OU is the stronger team, but not necessarily.  UT holds 59 wins over OU since 1900, and OU only 42.  (5 games were ties.)  To understand the Red River Rivalry one must place the games played in the context of more than 100 years of games.

Context is what we see reflected in the lessons today.  In the first one, through the mouth of the prophet God calls Cyrus of Persia His anointed one.  The word is the same as "Messiah."  Now Cyrus is a pagan king at this point, yet what Cyrus is going to do fits into God's overall plan for him, and so from the beginning God claims Cyrus as his servant.  The will of God is the context in which to understand Cyrus.

In the Epistle Paul writes to the Thessalonians.  He praises them for their faithfulness, yet in the end he gives thanks to God for them, for even their faithfulness is a gift.  The grace of God is the context for their spiritual lives.

In the Gospel lesson those pesky Pharisees try to trap Jesus again.  They move the conversation into the realm of politics.  Is it right to pay tribute to Caesar?  The word is best translated "tribute," not "tax,"  Tax, for us, is kind of a franchise.  You pay your money, you get to live here and enjoy the amenities of the place.  But tribute is different.

Many scholars (though there is no solid consensus on this) identify the Tiberius denarius as the coin involved.  The inscription on it says, “The worshiped son of a worshiped god.”  Tribute is a statement of loyalty, loyalty to Tiberius Caesar, the emperor who declared himself to be God.  And so, is it right to pay allegiance to Caesar as God?

Jesus asks for a coin.  But Jesus says, Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but to God what is God’s.  God alone is God, and God mints no coins nor is represented by an image.  It is OK to pay tribute to Caesar, because Caesar is not God, in spite of his claims otherwise.  But give to God what is God's.  Pay your tribute as an act of recognizing that God is not reducible to a coin or an earthly kingdom, Much less this Tiberius upstart.  The nature of God is the final context of this question.

One cannot minimize the importance of context.  In real estate one says that there are three things that are important in buying or selling a house: Location, Location, and location.  There are three things that are important to you as a Christian:  context, context and context.

There is a delightful Zen story of a man who wanted to become the student of a certain master.  He pleaded with the master until finally the master conceded.  For three years the man lived with the master, watched his every move, and studied his every action.  But the master said nothing to him.  Finally he blurted out, “I have spent 3 years living with you as your student and you have yet to teach me anything!”  The master replied angrily, “What have you been doing all this time?  I have taught you every day by what I did, were you not listening?”  God is our “Zen Master.”  A very wise person said that God shows up disguised as your life.  If you say that you do not have God in your life, in once sense you are completely correct.  You do not have God in your life, God has you in His.  If you do not know it it's because you have not yet woken up.  The spiritual life is life that is awake.  Spiritual disciplines are the process by which we wake up.

For most of us, our bodies wake up in the morning by hearing an alarm clock.  That buzzer is like the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life.  They call you to certain behaviors that tend to open  your spirit to deeper questions and deeper movements.  They get you in touch with how God has shown up disguised as your life.

This is easily illustrated with money.  You can say that the context of your financial health is a combination of:  Your earning power, your spending history, your capacity to save, and your values as a person.  But if you look more deeply you see that God gave you the gifts you have to earn, God granted you the ability to spend, and God expects to inform your values. God is the context for your finances.  So it is to God that you express your gratitude for all the above, offering back to him a percentage of what you have received, and exercising the spiritual discipline of the stewardship of treasure.  Your pledge for next year is not a tax, it is tribute, tribute to God, a statement of loyalty in gratitude for showing up as the context of your life.

Remember, you do not have God in your life, God has you in His.  Wake up and smell—heaven!