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Wednesday
Nov022016

Pew Seats Are Free

St Columba's parish banner. The phrase "Christo et Ecclesae" means "for Christ and for His Church"     Below is a short quote from a great sermon pointing to the power of what we do liturgically, and all that God has done and continues to do in the world.

     I believe these are very timely words spoken during an anxious time in the Church; but, they are words that point us to a very hope-filled future.

     Let us all keep on revealing God's Truth to the world in our regular, weekly worship together!

"These all exist here to witness to the possibility, sometimes as confronting to religious people as to the secular, that something actually happens in the Eucharist, and that this is because something actually happened in the Incarnation.

Hence it is not so much that ritual and reverence are to be performed because interesting or entertaining or even edifying, but that this particular ritual and reverence might be pleasing to God, because offered as much with a sense of its inadequacy as of its beauty in the service of the real presence of the Son of God. If this is true, everything changes: beauty must serve truth and reveal it; ritual points not to itself but to the mystery at its heart; and community gathers not for itself but for, and in, and as, the body of the one who died and rose to win that people for himself. More than that, we cannot claim to worship him on the altar or be his body if we will not acknowledge creation hallowed in and by him, and meet him in the street and the soup kitchen as well.

The seats are free..."

Click Here to read the full sermon preached at Christ Church, New Haven, Connecticut on the occasion of the installation of their new rector, Father Stephen Holton.  Fr Holton was originally sponsored for ordination to the priesthood in the Diocese of Atlanta. 

     The preacher, The Very Rev'd Andrew McGowan, is the current dean of Yale Divinity School.  Fr McGowan was recently the keynote speaker at St. Columba's last October when we hosted the Episcopal Church's "Society of Catholic Priests" Annual Conference.  

Benedicamus domino,

     Father Tripp+


Wednesday
Oct192016

Sacrificial Love

A sermon preached at the 8th annual conference of the Society of Catholic Priests, hosted at St Columba's Church and The Church of Our Saviour October 5-8, 2016.  For more information about the Society, click here.

The Society of Catholic Priests
Annual Conference Induction Mass
6 October 2016
Fr Tripp Norris

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  

     I’m convinced not only as Mother Lizette said that that are no coincidences when it comes to our spiritual journeys and lives, but also that God has a sense of humor.  Today we celebrate the life and witness of William Tyndale.  He is listed in one poll as #26 on the list of “100 Great Britons.”  Tyndale is perhaps best known for his English translation of the Bible, priest & scholar from the mid-16th century. 

     Ironically, he spoke out in opposition to any prayer to or even alongside of the intercession of saints.  He was one of the stronger theological voices too arguing for the mortality of the soul. 

     Well he’s been dead for 500 years and here we are with a Mass commemorating him as one of the saints of the church.  So I’m pretty sure he’s either completely right and the soul is mortal and intercession of saints is erroneous, or Tyndale has completely reversed his position on the Sanctorale and the soul’s mortality.

     All irony aside, I actually am glad we are gathered for our annual council induction Mass on the feast day of Tyndale.  His witness offers us a lesson we ought not forget.   

     Beyond his work with Holy Scripture and theology of liturgical prayer, Tyndale openly opposed King Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon.  Being a little more outspoken than he may have realized after the fact, he had to flee England hiding under the protection of the King of France.  The political tide soon turned against him, and he was betrayed and turned back over to the custody of Henry.  His death warrant having already been signed, he was hanged until almost dead then burned at the stake, making him one of the political martyrs from that turbulent era of the English church. 

     His final words, spoken "at the stake with a fervent zeal, and a loud voice", were reported as "Lord! Open the King of England's eyes."  Now it may have been a last dig at the ignorance of the King, or it could have been a prayer being lived out in the face of the ultimate sacrifice.  Let him see the love of God in Word and Sacrament. 

    Common Worship speaks of his witness as he was walking to the scaffold: “Lord give your people grace to hear and keep your word that after the example of William Tyndale, we may not only profess your gospel but also be ready to suffer and die for it….”

     Remember Mother Lizette’s call to us to step away from the trend to “apologize” for priestly ordination and her reminder to us of our three-fold call of our ordination:  priest, preacher, and pastor.  She reminded us that the first was most certainly the hardest:  priest.  Think about that for a moment.  Living your priesthood is not only the hardest part of our ministry to proclaim, but also it’s the very part that costs us much. As priests we are called to the live sacrificially.  And we have forgotten, perhaps, that costs of priesthood.  And I’m not talking about student loans or liquidating your assets to pay for seminary.   Dean McGowan or Mother Lizette will, however, appreciate my new stewardship slogan:  you gotta pay up, to go up.  So pay up on those loans and earmark some of your parish outreach funds to support our seminaries, so these two voices vital to the life and formation of our Church and their colleagues may continue to lead and shape our common witness and our common prayer. 

     With all the anxiety and despair and even hopelessness in all the reports of church decline, I fear we may in our fear loose site of what it means for us to be set apart – not above, but set apart for Christ and for His Church.  Our purpose as a Society is to preach resurrection in the face of our fears for the church’s future. 

     It’s said that the church is and has always been only one generation from extinction.  I don’t know about you but the voice of extinction and statistical trend lines of decline are foreign to my experience of the Gospel and our calling ourselves Easter people.  Like bishop Griswold so eloquently spoke this morning about our missing the mark a bit on baptismal ecclesiology.  The change in our being we miss as we rehearse the covenant throughout the year.  That’s so true.

     We are a church in love with the phrase ‘baptismal covenant’ but we have no connection with the spiritual formation part that makes our promises a covenant.  It’s as if we love the water but have lost, in our anxiety of the growing secularism of the culture and our fears of church’s coming change and prognostications of her future, we’ve fallen in love with the water but lost what it means to go under the water.  We’ve missed the mark about sacrifice and death that comes with God choosing us and what it may cost for us to choose God.  We preach resurrection but forget that there has to be death for resurrection to occur. 

     Now I’m not saying we all have to begin embracing martyrdom.  Some of us may have to be martyrs of the church.  One of my favorite shows is the now ended series, West Wing.  If only President Bartlett were running in November!  But in an episode when the President speaking to a group of high school tourists he said, “We don't need martyrs right now. We need heroes. A hero would die for his faith, but he'd much rather live for it.” 

     To be resurrection people, to live out the three-fold call of ordination, priest, preacher, pastor, we must be ready to live sacrifice.  We must remember the image of going under the water in baptism. 

     So I want to ask you to do something.  Take off your shoes.  Or if that freaks you out, at least embrace the image of standing barefoot here in this place.  Now imagine it’s not a 10 year old parish in the diocese of Atlanta.  Imagine you’re standing at the foot of the altars where you serve.  That is holy ground.  Living sacrificial priesthood there will not be easy. Jesus never hinted it ever would be.  You’ll get beaten up, let down and maybe even betrayed by the very people you’re called to serve and those you’re called to love.  But if we live sacrificial priesthood there and the communities around that holy space where you’re standing, those in your congregation and those outside looking in will see into the mystery of those baptismal waters.  Does this mean God will save your job or make transitions or deployment easy?  No.  No more than God will make living as a Christian, as a person of faith in the world today easy. 

     But we’re not called to save the church.  We are instead called to sacramentally show what loving like Jesus looks like.  That transforms people.  Seeing under the waters of our baptism and the hope that is there, seeing resurrection in the midst of fear or death or sacrifice transforms people. 

     So standing barefoot on the holy grounds of your altars in the word – wherever and everywhere they are for you – may the calling of your priesthood echo in your heart and soul.  And always ask yourself what it would look like for you in your ministry to live the prayer of Good Friday also used in ordinations and renewal of our vows:  O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

         Things are being cast down in our midst, perhaps more so than we ever thought they might.  But do you believe they will be raised up?  Really believe it? 

         You’re called to be a herald of this news!  Heralds often died when they delivered their message.  Much was asked of them in days of old for sure.  But what they did, what they sacrificed, gave life to a community.  We need to help people begin to understand what it means to live for the sake of our neighbor, to live for the sake of the world.  You are called as a herald and forerunner preparing the way of the Lord of all hope and loving in a way that gives life.

         Like that wonderful hymn sings, “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie // My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.  The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design // Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”  What might you be called to give up, to lose, what proclivities of the Church’s liturgy are keeping sacrifice from becoming real for your people? 

         That is the hope for the future, because that’s how the church began, right?   That’s the action of our liturgy: the rhythm of resurrection:  taking, blessing, breaking, and giving away … again and again and again and again.

         May William Tyndale’s dying words inspire you in your priestly life.  May the people you are called to serve see with their eyes in you set apart by God for Christ and for the Church the love that asks no question, the love that stands the test, that lays upon the altar the dearest and the best; the love that never falters, the love that pays the price, the love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

         The future is filled with hope because the future is the perfection into which God is calling the world.  So see in our work as a society embrace that image for the Church and for the priesthood.  It will be a hard road and it may cost you much.  But oh what joy there will be in the journey.  Welcome into the deep, deep waters of the river that flows from the throne of our God.  Take off your shoes, couragesouly step into the holy places God will lead you, jump in, and work for the love that will, that absolutely will, change the world!

     Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!

Tuesday
Aug162016

Vesper Light

The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended,

the darkness falls at thy behest;

to thee our morning hymns ascended,

thy praise shall sanctify our rest.

 

We thank thee that thy Church, unsleeping

while earth rolls onward into light,

through all the world her watch is keeping

and rests not now by day nor night.

 

As o'er each continent and island

the dawn leads on another day,

the voice of prayer is never silent,

nor dies the strain of praise away.

 

The sun that bids us rest is waking

our brethren 'neath the western sky,

and hour by hour fresh lips are making

thy wondrous doings heard on high.

 

So be it, Lord; thy throne shall never,

like earth's proud empires, pass away;

thy kingdom stands, and grows for ever,

till all thy creatures own thy sway.

 

Words: John Ellerton, 1870
Music: St. Clement

 

       One of my first and still perhaps my most cherished memories of my seminary days is singing Evensong each evening in chapel.  It’s said that no one sings better than we Anglicans, and I believe that is absolutely true.  Evensong is the centuries old vesper prayer of the Church and Anglican musicians have added a beauty and vision to these prayers unmatched by anyone.

       The hymn above is one of the more cherished evening hymns.  Written in the late 19th century by Father John Ellerton, an Anglican priest serving parishes in and around London.  His biographer credits him with writing and translating nearly 100 hymns.  In looking over a listing of hymns by Father Ellerton, I noticed he often used the image of the light of God in his texts.  The image of light recalled in Evensong is incredibly powerful to our faith and so moving to consider as the sun is setting and the prayers of the church echo through the shadows of the coming night. 

       The second stanza of his hymn gives thanks to God for the gift of the Church keeping watch over all the people of the world.  It is a reminder that in the darkness of the night, much like the darkness that we may experience in our own lives from time to time, we look to the Church, Christ’s body on earth now, for the light to guide us, protect us, and lead us through. 

       It was at the first Evensong at seminary where I first heard what has become my favorite prayer from our Prayer Book, and the prayer I use to close nearly every parish meeting:  "Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give thine angels charge over those whosleep.  Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, blessthe dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for thy love's sake."  This is the essence of all that we do as God's Holy Church on earth and the light which I pray shines out from our own parish and the work of our hands in ministry.

       I imagine Evensong in Father Ellerton’s day pouring out from the great doors and open windows of London’s great cathedrals as the sun sets over the city and the lamp lighters move down the streets lighting the gas lamps along the streets.  Light that pours out of our churches is the light that brings hope to all the world.  The light pouring out from our churches illuminates God’s answer to our prayers we lift heavenward.  The light pouring out from our churches, like the hymns so wonderfully written and sung in our beautiful tradition, has been shinning for thousands of years.  It is a light that never fades away.  It is a light that gladdens our hearts and helps us see God at every moment of our lives, until that day when, as Father Ellerton writes, we all move in harmony to the rhythms of God’s unending love.    

Benedicamus domino,

     Father Tripp+


>> Click Here to listen to this beautiful evening hymn.

>> Click here to read the beautiful prayers of Evensong.

Sunday
May012016

When We Rest, God Acts

     For the next three months, I will be on sabbatical which is a time for study, reflection, and renewal.  By tradition, parish clergy are granted a three-month period every seven years in their ministries.  During this time, the parish gives them an very helpful gift of time away from normal parish and pastoral duties so they take time to grow spiritually and reflect on their priestly ministry and on the mutual ministry they share with the parish they have been called to serve.  Sabbatical leave is not a vacation, nor is it only continuing education; it is to promote a priest’s spiritual, intellectual and emotional renewal and growth.  

       Sabbiticals are biblical.  Time and again, Jesus would take time away from his ministry and go to a private place to rest and to pray, apart from the disciples and others following him.  God even modeld a sabbath rest in the story of creation.  Rest is that part of our spiritual lives we do not heed as often as we perhaps should.  For those called to lead parishes, without sabbath (sabbatical) rest, the vision we share can get lost and our ministries we do together suffer as a result.  

       During these three months, Father Ben will come on our staff full-time.  This will be a great joy for everyone, I am sure!  Father Ben has served at St. Columba's on a voluntary basis, being with us only on Sunday mornings (nonstipendary is the word used commonly, meaning unpaid).  So these three months will be a blessing to our parish as he steps in to fill in for me.  His phenenomenal preaching, keen intellect, and marvelous sense of humor will set a refreshing pace for us even as we slip into summertime mode.  He will teach, preach, respond pastorally to any need, and even assist Christine Burrelly during VBS week in July.  

       My plans during the coming months are divided into three parts:  rest and study; spiritual renewal; and writing.  I will post a weekly reflection on our website in a new section I've titled Benedicamus Domino, "let us bless the Lord."  Each journal posting will share with you some of my journey.  

       Perhaps the biggest highlight of my sabbitial journey will take place this June.  I will have the chance to return to the Convent of St. John Baptist in Mendham, NJ where I am a priest associate.  I'll spend a week there in silent retreat.  That may be my biggest challenge of the three months - so keep my visit to the convent (and for help in my staying silent for an entire week) in your prayers in June.  Two of the sisters at the convent have been great spiritual guides to me ever since I first visited St. John Baptist in 1991 when I entered seminary in New York.  I'm looking forward to a return visit very, very much.  

       At the urging of a number of parishioners, I will take a stab at writing for the first time.  What this writing project will produce is a mystery.  But as I was planning the three months, I heard too often to ignore good friends and fellow parishioners suggest writing.  I remembered the same persistance 13 years ago from friends and former parishioners who kept telling me God was calling me to start a new parish.  At the time I had never thought I would be called to mission development, but I trusted them and how blessed I have been for doing so!  So I'll take your advice and dive into a writing project.

     July will be a time focused on our mutual minstry as a parish community.  We are in time of transition and re-growth as a congregation and that is incredibly exciting.  So the last three weeks of my sabbatical will focus on where God is calling us now, at this moment, and what that might look like.  In September, our Sunday morning adult forum will resume and there we will have the chance for several weeks of Spirit-filled discussions about what God is calling us to do, who God is calling us to be, and into what new places God is calling us to launch new ministries.

       So I begin this sabbath journey with a deep appreciation of the gift of time and opportunity you all have given me.  The first image I share with you from the journey is the saying, "when we strive, God waits; when we rest, God acts."  May God's actions in all of our lives lead us to new depths of understanding and even higher glimpses of His most holy, life-giving love.

Benedicamus domino,
      Father Tripp+