The Rev. Canon John L.C. Mitman

Christmas II
3 January, 2016
Grace Episcopal Church

The Second Sunday after Christmas

January 3, 2016

Grace Episcopal Church, Hartford

The Rev. Canon John L.C. Mitman
Priest Associate

I must confess to all of you this morning that this is the first time I have every preached in a parish on the Sunday after the departure of a priest, a priest who’s departure was at the direction of the bishop.  This is a jarring, unique and unsettling experience for all of us.  And, yes, it is also true that there is a sense of relief from the stress of these last months.  And, and there is that persistent question, what is to happen next?  Do we even know the shape of the unknowns which loom before us?

It strikes me that Mary and Joseph faced a bit of this same situation in this morning’s gospel reading.  Fearing for their lives under King Herod the Great, the Holy Family had left Bethlehem and had fled into Egypt for safety.  Then Herod died and they headed home only to realize that Herod’s successor might be just as much of a danger to their safety as was Herod.  I can just imagine Joseph saying to Mary, “Well, dear Mary. Here we go again.  I guess we’ll take the long way ‘round and try Nazareth this time.”

“Here we go again.”  “Here we go again!”   That may well be how we are all feeling as we yet again set about looking for a new priest after almost exactly a full year of false starts, distress and disappointments.  But I stand before you as one who has not lost faith or hope and, to paraphrase the 40th Chapter of Isaiah, I feel called to speak comfortably to the people of Grace Episcopal Church, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins.’

Back to that Holy Family for a moment:  I wonder if we can imagine the fear and anxiety which would have come with being told, albeit by an angel, that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were to leave their home country of Israel and head off to Egypt, far to the south.  Keep in mind, they would have been walking, walking through the wilderness of the Sinai, the same Sinai wilderness earlier crossed and re-crossed for 40 years by the Wilderness People of Israel with all of its threats and dangers.  Remember, Jesus was but a newborn.  Mary had just delivered this infant.  Joseph was probably just scared, scared mostly by the unknown of it all.  If the trip were not bad enough, what kind of life would they face at the other end?  Remember, the stories about sojourning in Egypt were nothing less than a nightmare for all Jews, then and now!   Wow!

But the next months for us are not nearly such an unknown and certainly should not be nearly so frightening for us as for Joseph.  This last Wednesday morning, after the 7:15 Low Mass, over breakfast coffee at Effie’s (Fr. Conners had been with us but had departed), I asked the five remaining diners, all members of Grace Church,  just what they thought our congregation needed to hear this Sunday morning.  I was both gratified and moved to hear, in various ways, that what they thought our congregation needed to hear this morning was the Gospel, the Good News of the Gospel!

I could not agree more for they were absolutely right!  It strikes me that for all we feel we have been through, nothing, nothing fundamentally has changed since last January when Fr. Max left us to go to another parish.  We were loved by God before Fr. Maxwell left, we were loved by God after he left and we are loved by this same God today!  We were a strong community of Christians last year and we are the same this year.  We absolutely and most certainly have God’s love and assurance just as we have had that love and assurance in the past.  Assurance:

·         that we are loved by God; [nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus

·         Assurance that we have been both redeemed and restored by God in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

·         Assurance that Jesus Christ is still our Lord and Saviour;

·         Assurance in those words from Jesus, ”I will be with you always, even unto the end of the earth”;

·         Assurance that we have God with us in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit and in that we abide in Jesus’ presence in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood at this altar;

·         Assurance that we have each other as sisters and brothers remarkably able and committed in-our-care-for-one-another and able and committed to our mission and ministry in the world about us;

·         We have the gift of the art, the drama, the beauty of the Holy Mass as uniquely celebrated here at Grace Church;

And, ah yes, we know what we are to do, we have our marching orders as directly and clearly as if they had arrived this morning as a signed handwritten letter from St. Peter’s private office; We have

o   Love one another as Christ has loved us;

o   We have the great Commission: Jesus Said, go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

To close (well, almost anyway!), on a most mundane level and yet a truly troublesome level, I want to share with all of you my conviction that we are in a very different place in our relationship with the various authorities in our diocese.  There were times in this last year when we were not taken seriously, when we were not listened to, when no one was home for us in the diocesan office in Meriden, when, in fact, we were treated shamefully.  I do believe that those days are past and that things should begin to move quite quickly, not just for an interim priest but for what is called a “settled priest”, that is, a long-term priest.

Now to close for real, it is a fact of life in our time that stress is all-too-often the crucible in which our lives and our ministries are conceived, take shape and are lived out.  Sad as that may be, I pray my brothers and sisters that we can accept that truth and even embrace it!  For we have the work and ministry of God to carry out.  If not us, then who?

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