Archive for 2018

The Spirit Speaks in Platitudes

Monday, December 24th, 2018

Sermons can be seen as a series of cliches interspersed with anecdotes and personal reflections. This is especially true at Christmas time.

And that isn’t all bad. After all, the Christmas message is not going to be a startling revelation to most people. It’s hard to say anything new about the birth of the Christ.

And yet, thank God, the Spirit still speaks to us in the feeble words we offer at this time of year. The bright light shines, the Messiah comes to earth, the Word is made flesh and dwells among us, full of grace and truth. —J. Douglas Ousley

 


A Hole in the World

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

I know second-hand from my wife’s work that hospitals are like miniature worlds.

Employees work all sorts of hours enclosed within their buildings, wearing distinctive garments and speaking an arcane language only they understand. Bearing extreme stress together in situations of life and death, hospital employees not surprisingly come to think of themselves as “family.”

Early this morning, I officiated at a memorial service for a beloved doctor at a hospital on Long Island. Even though the employees in the packed conference room were, I assume, from very different religious backgrounds, I chose the service I knew best–the traditional language version of the Burial Office from the Book of Common Prayer.

I think that most of those present could find comfort in the ancient words. I spoke of the help many people felt in offering prayers for the departed; this was one of the few things we who mourn can “do” in the face of our grief.

Death rips the fabric of a community; it leaves a hole in the world of the people who are left. Thank God that we can offer prayers for our loved ones, that they may rest in peace and rise in glory. —J. Douglas Ousley


Pie in the Sky

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

At a Men’s Group meeting last week, we discussed the Christian belief in life after death.

I chose this topic because I had been surprised recently by parishioner skepticism about their immortality. Several regular churchgoers told me they were uncertain whether they would survive the dissolution of their bodies–even though this faith is an important part of traditional doctrine.

My guess is that this questioning stems largely from the apparent lack of scientific evidence for life after death. Skeptics may also question the apparent selfishness of belief in “pie in the sky after you die.”

My response is, first, that there is some evidence for immortality (the mystery of consciousness, near-death visions of heaven). Second, this hope is not selfish but rather the natural hope of men and women who believe in a loving and omnipotent God. Our God will not allow his people to perish.

There is much more to be said on this topic. What seems certain is that the church should be discussing it! —J. Douglas Ousley


The Richness of Faith

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

The Anglican Communion has inherited what we call the “Catholic” tradition of liturgy and sacraments. I was particularly struck by the depths of this tradition last week, when I was involved in a funeral, an ordination to the priesthood, several celebrations of the holy eucharist, and a wedding.

Our Episcopal Church offers all these forms of worship and more. And the Prayer Book also includes many forms of individual prayer, as well as personal sacraments such as private confession and anointing of the sick.

We also permit a wide variety of understandings of these liturgies. At the wedding, perhaps 100 out of the 150 persons present elected to receive communion. We invite all baptized persons to communicate because we have a broad definition of the meaning of holy communion, and we hope that as many people as possible will feel included.

The Catholic tradition. The richness of faith. The gifts of God for the people of God. —J. Douglas Ousley


Time is Short

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

“Be alert,” Jesus says in the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent, which is this Sunday.

I couldn’t help seeing the somber side of Christ’s message over the past few days. The day before Thanksgiving, the husband of a couple I married a dozen years ago failed to wake up. The cause of his death is being determined; in the meantime, I journeyed to the North Shore of Long Island on Monday to officiate at the wrenching funeral for the man, who left behind his wife and three children under ten.

The Book of Common Prayer’s words about being “in the midst of things we cannot understand” were all too appropriate for the funeral. May we be alert to the gifts of God each day–and be thankful. —J. Douglas Ousley


Time for a Little Diversity

Monday, November 19th, 2018

The Bishop of Albany, the Rt. Rev. William Love has issued a pastoral letter that is receiving much comment in the church and secular press. In the letter, Bishop Love forbids same-sex marriage in his diocese, even though these rites are legal in New York State. Bishop Love seems to be the only Episcopal bishop in the entire United States to make this ruling.

I myself don’t agree with his reasoning from very traditional grounds–including invoking Satan, which doesn’t do much to promote dialogue.

However, Bishop Love’s position in itself was the position of the entire Christian community a century ago, and it remains the majority view of Christians worldwide. So while I am sorry gays and lesbians will need to travel outside the Diocese of Albany for religious marriage, I hope Bishop Love will not be drummed out of the Church. I know him personally to be a kind and generous man–more generous than his written statement suggests. Surely there is enough room in our Episcopal Church to include him. —J. Douglas Ousley


In Black and White

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

Much of the annual Convention of the Diocese of New York last weekend focussed on racial and gender prejudice. A play on slavery was presented and a special liturgy centered on the #MeToo Movement.

What was striking to me as a white male was how different the perceptions of persons of color and women were from my own. Where I saw progress in race relations, black delegates saw continuing inequality. Where I saw minor sexist gestures, women saw abusive actions.

It sometimes seemed to me as though there were two different realities. Of course, there aren’t–there is only one Reality, one Truth grounded in God.

But different perceptions do exist in our diverse mental worlds. And it’s up to me to try to understand the mental worlds of those who are suffering in today’s culture. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Votes Are In

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

After much vitriol, the mid-term elections seem to have passed quietly into history, with something for everyone to be happy about and some reasons to be disappointed. As usual, qualified people lost and unqualified people won.

There was little specifically religious in the debates as far as I could tell. All Americans could be happy that so many of us voted–and, of course, that we won’t have to look at campaign commercials for a while.

Let us pray for a period of calm and maybe even some reconciliation. In any event, we can be grateful that democracy won. —J. Douglas Ousley


God-help

Monday, October 29th, 2018

As a parish, we are reading The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. The book has sold some 34 million copies–largely I suspect to evangelical Christians who know of Warren’s phenomenal success of Saddleback Church, Warren’s megachurch in Southern California.

The Purpose Driven Life is written in a light style, with short chapters and lists of suggestions and catchy phrases. But it makes one weighty point: we are to look to God for meaning and purpose in our lives.

Warren notes that self-help books tend to offer the same advice about believing in yourself and working hard, etc. By contrast, Christians are to look to the divine for support.

This is a crucial distinction between secular philosophies and Christianity. We depend on God rather than on ourselves. We know that self-help will only take us so far. We have a different if sometimes perplexing view of the universe–a view we can only live by with God’s help. —J. Douglas Ousley


Churchman

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

At the funeral of our Treasurer, last Saturday, I described Michael Linburn as “a good churchman.”

The term, “churchman” used to be common in Episcopal Church parlance; it referred to the way a person lived out his faith in the church community. So, for example, one would speak of an Episcopalian’s “churchmanship” in saying whether he preferred “high” or “low” ritual worship.

It’s too bad the word has gone out of fashion; it might have been made more acceptable by adding the variant, “churchwomanship.”

In any case, whatever word we use, we should be grateful for the churchmen and churchwomen who support the Body of Christ by their presence and their gifts. Especially those who support the Church through difficult times–who don’t give up when things don’t go their way, who prove to be the Church’s men and women. —J. Douglas Ousley