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Showing posts from 2015

"Christmas" hymns during Advent -- a source of angst among many clergy and worship planners

"Christmas" hymns sung during Advent seem to generate a large amount of angst among my fellow clergy/liturgy planners. Some people balk at the idea of singing "Christmas" hymns during Advent. And I'm the first to admit -- and have admitted repeatedly -- that I am a recovering Advent Purist myself.  But here's the thing: if you take a close look at the hymn texts - what is actually being sung, what is actually being proclaimed, theologically, in the words - - you could make the argument that the assignment of a hymn to the "Advent" or "Christmas" section of the hymnal may have been somewhat arbitrary. Here's what I mean: some hymns found in the "Advent" section of the 1982 Hymnal mention the birth of Jesus as an accomplished historical fact, already having happened. For example, in Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, (Hymn #66), we proclaim, Born thy people to deliver/ born a child, and yet a king/ born t

Advent: a season of JOY-full anticipation

This Sunday -- the Third Sunday in Advent -- is traditionally called " Gaudete  Sunday or "Rejoice" Sunday. As it should be: Advent,  I've long argued , should be observed NOT  (as the lectionary would have us do) primarily  as a  penitential  season anticipating the  second coming of Jesus. Rather, Advent should primarily be a joyful  season anticipating our annual celebration of Jesus'  first  coming on that first Christmas.  That is why we ( The Falls Church Episcopal ) slightly modifies (with the Bishop's permission, I hasten to add) our lectionary during Advent.  Accordingly, we get to hear the remarkable stories of  the angel  Gabriel's annunciation to Mary  and  Mary's visitation to Elizabeth , Mary's  Magnificat   song of praise and  As on this Sunday -- the remarkable story of God's interrupting Joseph's all-too-human, all-too-uninspired plans   to "dismiss her quietly"  as a way of preparing our hearts

Getting into "the Christmas Spirit" in the middle of "all that is going on"

I've been in several conversations lately that have to do with current events or someone's personal struggles, and as a result "how difficult it is to get into 'the Christmas spirit' with all the hustle and hurry and stress and violence and political conflict going on." What I need to remember -- and offer to you as a thought today-- is that hustle, hurry, stress, violence, and political conflict are only a contrast with Christmas if you are insisting on trying to celebrate one of two cultural Christmas's (that aren't really Christmas at all). The first non-real cultural Christmas is the " Commercialized Christmas " -- what I'd call "the Feast of the Incarnation of the unholy trinity of Zales, Best Buy, and Audi." This is a commodified Christmas, a "lie-loudly-and-often-enough-that-people-will-believe-they-can-buy-their-way-into-happiness" Christmas.  This Christmas is all about, as Wordsworth would say, "gett

Between Veterans Day and Thanksgiving Day...

As I write this (Thursday evening) I'm still on a bit of a high from a full-of-wonder evening last night, when Mary and I hosted, at the Rectory, a Veterans Day dinner. We were delighted to welcome 35 people for dinner -- veterans and their spouses, plus volunteers who were enthusiastic to "serve those who served" in this way.  After our meal, and over dessert and coffee, I invited each veteran, beginning with the most recent and working our way back to the most senior, to stand, say their name and branch of service, their time served, and then to share one story. As we listened, we received a mini history lesson in the armed conflicts of our nation. It started with a parishioner who fought in the Battle of Fallujah in 2004. It ended with a parishioner who, as a senior in high school, was on his way back from a Christmas pageant rehearsal on December 6, 1941 when he switched the car radio on and heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, forever altering

Advent, Joyfully Anticipating Christmas, and singing "Christmas" hymns during Advent

As the church is about to start the season of Advent, it reminds me that part of our call, as the church, is to be, this time of year, a voice crying in the consumer-orgy wilderness.  I think the church has a responsibility to be counter-cultural. Someone needs to point out that, contrary to what Best Buy commercials teach, b uying electronics is not the way to get people to love you.  And someone -- it might as well be the church -- should point out that contrary to what Zales commercials teach, giving expensive jewelry on the morning of December 25th does not make up for one's being an emotionally distant jerk the other 364 days of the year. But here's the thing: the danger the church runs into is coming across as grouchy spoil-sports. That's a huge irony, because the season of Advent SHOULD be a season of joyfully anticipating Christmas.  Unfortunately, though, it seldom is, at least not the way most Episcopal church's observe it.  I've come to believe th

"It's not happy people who are thankful. It's thankful people who are happy."

Out of the blue, my wife sent me a quote,  "It's not happy people who are thankful. It's thankful people who are happy."  That made me remember one of my favorite quotes: Apparently Thich Nhat Hahn is on solid psychological ground here: check out this article in Scientific American . Be thankful to be happy. Smile to have joy.

The "Elf on the Shelf" War on Christmas"

It's only the second day of November, but already I've had a couple of conversations with parents of young children about the theologically obscene "elf-on-the-shelf" trend. Which is now more than a trend. As a parent of what were once three young children, I do understand the temptation to find some way to leverage good behavior during this time of year. But speaking as a pastor and priest, "elf-on-the-shelf" is about as bad a theology around Christmastime as you can get. So, while I may be a voice crying in the wilderness on this topic, I thought I'd re-share a blog post I wrote a few years ago titled " The Elf on the Shelf's War on Christmas ." Comments welcome.

What Keeps Us From Praying

Praying Like Bartimaeus A sermon preached October 25, 2015 The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector, The Falls Church Episcopal Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sigh

The Kingdom of God, Shifting Perspectives

A parishioner recently shared this video, titled "Assumptions."  It only takes 43 seconds to watch: As soon as I watched it, I said, "well, THAT'LL preach! Here's what I mean: one of the most important roles of Christian faith is to help us shift our perspective. What if 20 minutes spent daily in prayer caused us to have these 43-second shifts in perspective all day long, every day? What if daily bible reading helped us realize, over time, that that which seems large and looming in life may, in fact/God's Kingdom/reality, be quite small? And that which seems remote and insignificant may, in fact/God's Kingdom/reality quite large? What if current events were the "forced perspective" of the chair? What if acts of service to others were the second cup and saucer?

Praying, Honestly

In t he Gospel we hear this Sunday , James and John come to Jesus and say, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." When Jesus says "what is it you want me to do for you?," they tell him they want to sit at Jesus' right hand - to have places of honor in heaven. So usually, when you hear a sermon about this passage, or when you read any commentaries about it, James and John don't come off so well. Usually, the line of thinking/preaching goes, "How dare they! How selfish! How inconsiderate; how egotistical." Or at least "how clueless." And according to that way of understanding the passage (an understanding I've had almost my entire ministry, I must admit), Jesus is seen as sharing the anger or frustration that we're told the other ten disciples have toward James and John, and his tone toward James and John is seen as scolding. But nowhere does the text say Jesus was angry with James or John. And the Bib

Daily Examen: God at Work

Daily Examen of St. Ignatius Loyola (From a widely distributed brochure and found on  other sites ; I cannot find any copyright or even a way to properly attribute authorship...if you know and can help me give credit where credit is due, please let me know in the comment field.) Would You Like to Grow in Intimacy with God? God becomes available to us through the lives of individuals who share their gifts, and the Source of their gifts, with others. Saint Ignatius Loyola received a gift from God that enriched his Christian life. The gift was a "method," a way to seek and find God in all things and then gain the freedom to let His will be done on earth. This "method" allowed Ignatius to discover the voice of God within his own heart and to experience a growth in familiarity with God's will. This "method" involved discovery and experience; becoming attuned to God's suggestions and supports for action, growing intimate with God's prompting

St. Francis, Jesus,

This Sunday is the Feast of St. Francis, a day to remember and honor Francis of Assisi, who was born in the early 1180's and who died in 1226. Francis was the son of a wealthy merchant, but encounters with the poor caused him to take Jesus/the Bible/the "authority of Scripture" literally and - much to the chagrin of his father - give up all his possessions and live a life of poverty, humility, and service to the poor. He was the founder of the Franciscan order, people who to this day dedicate themselves to following his teachings. Ironically, St. Francis is best known to most American Episcopalians for one thing that wasn't all that central to his life - his love for animals and the resulting custom of an annual Blessing of the Animals -- and another thing that has nothing directly to do with him at all: the "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace" prayer that is printed in our Book of Common Prayer as attributed to him, but wasn't written much ear

Caricature Christians?

A sermon by the Rev. John Ohmer, Rector, The Falls Church Episcopal Falls Church, Virginia September 13, 2015 Jesus is walking along with his disciples and suddenly asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” (In other words, “What are the prevailing opinions out there?”) They give him some of the most common theories, and then Jesus says, okay, let’s make this personal. “Who do YOU say that I am?” Peter answers (seemingly correctly at first) by saying he’s the Messiah, the long-awaited anointed one, but then when Jesus spells out what that means, it turns out Peter had it all wrong.

We are simply asked

(Edited from original post) Twenty or more years ago, someone gave me what has become my favorite prayer/poem. It was written by the Jesuit* priest Peter Byrne, and it's this: We are simply asked to make gentle our bruised world to tame its savageness to be compassionate of all (including ourselves) then in the time left over to repeat the Ancient Tale and go the way  of God's foolish ones. I've also seen the prayer/poem in a different version, with the words "...from these ministries of justice and care" added after "in the time left over," but that always felt a little clunky to me. I often wondered if those words had been added, because they seem to break up what is otherwise a nice rhythm to the poem. So three or four years ago, when I asked Mary, as my birthday present, to splurge on commissioning calligrapher Michael Podesta to write up the prayer/poem as something I could frame, I decided to research the prayer/poem.

The Best Posture of this Country

A sermon preached September 6, 2015 The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector The Falls Church Episcopal Falls Church, Virginia James 2:1-17 Mark 7:24-37 In case you’re confused by the service leaflet, where it says Kelly is supposed to be preaching today, well, she was, and she was planning to. But yesterday she came down with the stomach flu, and of course we encouraged her to stay home until she’s 100%.   (And to think I came this close to getting out of having to preach on a couple of very tough passages …) (Kelly’s sermon, by the way, was written well ahead of time and is, as we have already come to expect, excellent. And inspiring – I was inspired reading it.* Hard copies are available, and will be made available on line.)   What you’re going to get from me today is a little different than a normal sermon. Today I want to tell you a story – a bit of my own family history -- and then read you a poem. And then show you how I think that story and the poem rela