Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

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


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


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


Christians v. Christians

Friday, October 5th, 2018

Some years ago, I inherited a leather-bound set of the works of Sir Walter Scott. During a recent vacation, I read Scott’s most famous book, Rob Roy.

The novel includes interactions between the main character and the Robin Hood-like Scottish hero known as Rob Roy. But an on-going sub-text of the story is the 18th-century rivalry between rebellious Roman Catholics and conservative Protestants. Despite their common Christianity, the members of these groups are forever at each other’s throats–to the extent even of civil war.

Today’s intra-Church rivalries are happily less violent. But they remain highly significant. In liberal Christian circles, “evangelical” is a negative epithet. The same is true in evangelical churches of the word, “liberal.” As someone from an evangelical background who serves a traditionally Broad Church congregation, I think I’m particularly aware of the bitterness of this conflict.

Despite all the ecumenical work in the past half-century, we Christians have a way to go if we are going to “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us…”–J. Douglas Ousley


A Great Episcopalian

Monday, August 27th, 2018

While John McCain attended a Baptist church with his wife, he never officially left the Episcopal Church in which he was raised. He often spoke of his faith in God, especially as it helped him to endure the long years in the brutal Hanoi prison.

Moreover, McCain’s funeral will be held in the National Cathedral, which is of course Episcopalian.

So I am going to claim him for our church–as an example of courage, generosity, openness, unselfishness, and just plain niceness. All Christians and other people of faith can be encouraged by his example.

A great Episcopalian. While he was only tangentially an Episcopalian, he was unquestionably great. —J. Douglas Ousley


This is the Day…

Monday, August 20th, 2018

This morning, our organist, Levente Medveczky underwent surgery for the second time in two weeks. While we are hopeful he will eventually return to work, he looks to have a substantial recovery ahead of him.

Scarcely a month ago, Levente was doing fine. Life was going well; he was 27-years-old and off to China to given organ lessons.

Now his mother and brother have journeyed from Hungary to care for him and help him to make medical decisions for his future treatments.

The opening for Morning Prayer in Easter Season is, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will be glad and rejoice in it.” As we remember that health is a gift and each day was made by God, let us also remember to rejoice and give thanks for the time we have before us. —J. Douglas Ousley


God’s Sense of Humor

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

I had written a sermon that I had been thinking about for a couple of months; it was on the text, “Do not let the sun go down upon your anger.”

Sure enough, the day before the sermon, I got into an argument with a friend. I was furious–in fact, I was furious all the way through Sunday, during which time I gave three versions of a sermon on how Christians should deal with their anger.

I am by no means sure that God intended the coincidence of argument and sermon. But I am sure that, for me, this was a teaching moment!

I made it up with my friend. And I will not be surprised in the future to see if I again think that God has a sense of humor. —J. Douglas Ousley


In the World

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

Christians are taught to recognize that while they are “in the world” in the sense that they inhabit the material world, they are not “of the world” because they are part of the spiritual body of Christ.

The ambivalence of our human straddling of two worlds has been particularly stressful as we attempt to deal with the current political situation. It seems like almost every day I get agitated messages from people on one or the other side of the political divide: anti-President and pro-President. The immigrant crisis of the moment has of course made this conflict even worse, with children and their parents suffering the consequences.

When do we “speak out”–we who are in the world but not of it? And if we speak out, what difference does it make? Both political camps have been doing lots of talking without much effect, it seems to me. Vocal Christians have been on both sides, though the immigrant situation has drawn many to the side of the children–one would think, inevitably.

In our parish, we will be looking for new ways to promote dialogue. Perhaps the upcoming General Convention of the Episcopal Church will pass resolutions that can provide a focus for discussion.

In the meantime, we remain in the world, whether we like it or not. —J. Douglas Ousley