Sunday, 2 September 2007

Grumpy old coot

I wish to become a grumpy old coot.
This is one of my first steps in
that direction.


Why do broadcasters think it important
to use many words in convoluted
sentences,( if indeed they are sentences)?

I heard the following on the radio this
morning.

When speaking about Labor Day and picnics,
the broadcaster suggested that
families and friends might gather around a pool.

And then she said,

"if it's not the case that you do have a pool you
could go to the beach"

"If it's not the case that you do have a pool?!"

W.H.Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public
doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

T.S.Elliott

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

S'io credessi che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza pi scosse.
Ma per ci che giammai di questo fondo
non torn vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.



Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question.
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate,
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair--
(They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!")
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin--
(They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!")
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute win reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all--
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all--
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all--
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas...

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep ... tired ... or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in
upon a platter,
I am no prophet-and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.


And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"--
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: "That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all."

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along
the floor--
And this, and so much more?--
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a
screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
"That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all."

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Sermon August 26th 2007

Sermon for August 26th 2007
The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Hilary’s, Fort Myers, FL

Isaiah 58:9-14; Psalm 103; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10:17


Thank you for welcoming me into your community this morning. Until just over a year ago I was Rector at St. James’s, Cambridge in Massachusetts. Now I am retired and enjoying life in Sarasota.

Some of us met about 10 years ago when we explored whether or not I might be your Rector. It was in our wisdom and that of the Holy Spirit that we decided otherwise. Instead Fr. Bob came here, and I am so grateful for his grace and generosity of spirit which moved him to invite me here today.

I try to be of the KISS variety of preachers. KISS as many of you know, stands for Keep It Simple...... Saints!

“ Let us give thanks, by which we offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe.”
So wrote the author of the Letter to the Hebrews.

“Acceptable worship”. That implies that there is unacceptable worship.

So I start by asserting that God is not necessarily pleased with what we are doing today.

That’s particularly hard for Episcopalians to hear and belief, possessed as we are by a certain snobbish attitude about our liturgy and music. We imagine that God tunes in on Sunday mornings and says “oh yes, the Episcopalians, now they of all Christians have gotten the Liturgy right!”

But what if......, what if God is not pleased with what we are doing? Dare we imagine the Holy One saying “I am bored silly with your fancy dress and your endless processions, I am not listening any more, your worship is totally unacceptable”?

Could that happen?

Well the God of Isaiah is also the one who says by Amos “I hate, I despise your solemn feasts”. And according to Amos, the reason for that hatred by God is worship which consists of all words and no ethics.
Worse than that, unacceptable worship is that which is rooted in unjust acts which are masked by holy words.

Isaiah gives us the positive to Amos’ negative. The Sabbath prayer which is acceptable to God; the prayer which God hears, is rooted in free and honest life in the community of faith; and justice for the poor and afflicted.

Free and honest life in the Christian community.

For that to happen, Isaiah says that we need to lift yokes: that is, lift unnecessary burdens.

What are the burdens which this parish places, for instance upon its clergy and lay leaders? What are the unrealistic expectations we place upon them? Do we expect their perfections to mask our imperfections? Would we demand from them that which would not dream of asking of a spouse, a child, a boss or a parent? Lift those yokes or else God might not hear our prayers.

Free and honest life in the Christian community.

For that to happen, Isaiah continues we must cease from the pointing of the finger and the speaking of evil.

Pointing of the finger. “When we in the Christian community say “it’s his fault, it’s her fault”, or “they should have acted differently”, or “he really messed up there”, or “she only looks out for number one” - then we are pointing the finger. It’s actually quite dangerous speech for it can lead to scape-goating and all manner of verbal cruelty.

When we point the finger, God does not hear our prayer. Banish those words “he, she, they” and substitute “we”. “They” are “us”.

Speaking of evil. That points to the cardinal sin which destroys lives and destroys community. That sin is called gossip. There is no such thing as harmless gossip. It is always harmful. The is no such thing as a juicy bit of gossip, it is always rank and bitter. God does not hear the prayers of a gossipy Church. Period.

“Justice for the hungry and the afflicted”

For you see, in order for our worship to be acceptable to God, is it is not sufficient to abstain from lifting yokes, pointing fingers and the speaking of evil. That’s the easy bit.

My eyes loop the loop when I hear of someone “she/he never did any harm”. “All well and good” I want to ask, “but did she/he do any good?”

We are also called to do something.

God hears the prayers of those who offer their food to the hungry.

Notice, it does not say “offer someone else’s food to the hungry”! It is an offence against God to be an obese Church in a hungry world, and I speak as one who eats too much, sometimes just for the sake of eating. A food greedy Church is one whose worship is unacceptable.

And right worship is rooted in satisfying the needs of the afflicted.

Who are the afflicted in Fort Myers? Could it be the migrant workers on whom our lives and comforts depend? Could it be the prisoners in that ugly castle at the centre of your City? Could it be the frail elderly in our miserably understaffed nursing homes?

In Sarasota it is certainly the homeless. There we work in a marvelous Church created facility called Resurrection House, and offer breakfast, a shower, a laundry service, together with job and housing counseling.

And there, week by week I pray with the homeless, amongst whom are some of the most wonderful people I have met. I do not do this because I am a nice guy. But if I do not work to satisfy the needs of the afflicted, God will not hear my prayer, and my worship and this sermon will not be acceptable to God.

Is God pleased with what we are doing today? There is the story of the famous and very wise Rabbi in Nineteenth Century Poland who entered a small town in which there was a most beautiful Synagogue. The leaders of the community could not wait to take this Rabbi to their building, and with great pride they unlocked and open the doors.

The Rabbi stood at the threshold and stopped saying “I cannot enter, there is something blocking my way”. The leaders were mystified as the doors were wide open. Again they urged the Rabbi to enter. Again is said that his way was blocked. At last the leaders asked the Rabbi, “what is blocking your way”. “Words, words, words” he said. Words which you left here last Shabbat, and did not take with you”.

What would that Rabbi say at the doors of St. Hilary’s?

Or, more importantly, is God pleased with what we are doing today or are we ticking him off?

Sermon July 29th 2007

Sermon for July 29th 2007
The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. David’s, Englewood, FL.

Genesis 18:20-31; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-19; Luke 11:1-13


When I was with you last Sunday I preached, for the first time in more than a year. During this week I have realised that I have many sermons stored up in my mind.

So today I will be making two major points. They may in fact turn out to be two sermons, so if they do not hang together, they will most certainly hang separately!

The account of Abraham and the Lord from Genesis has the Lord highly ticked off, and Abraham at his most bold. The dialogue is in the language of the bazaar. It is the bargaining of the near eastern world. It’s the “real world” not the so-called “holy world”. Bear that in mind for a bit later, and bear it in mind as you read the stuff from then Gospel which has to do with prayer. The sense of the verbs is “ask, ask, ask”, “search, search, search”, “knock, knock, knock”. I believe that Jesus is taking us back to the language of the market place, the language of the bazaar. Prayer has to do with being a determined arguer and bargainer.

But how do we learn to pray? Mostly of course through repetition and memorisation. Those can be handy tools.

I remember learning the “times tables” by rote. I have never forgotten them. But the tool of memorisation was not as useful when I encountered a different kind of mathematics - a kind which needed inquisitiveness and intuition.

I also learned much of my early beliefs through memorisation, and especially through singing. I grew up in Christian fundamentalism, in a sect which taught children many musical choruses. We repeated these songs, many of them based on Scriptural texts, over and ever again. They are deeply ingrained. Often I wake to have one of these jingles racing through my mind, and I mutter a bit as I realise that you can take the boy out of fundamentalism, but you cannot completely take the fundamentalism out of the boy.

And we all acquire a faith, a belief system , a theology by what we memorise. For example, call it the Lord’s Prayer, or the Our Father, the constant repetition of that prayer makes it rest in a very deep place in our minds.

So often, as I have stood by the bed of a dying or comatose person, as I have begun “Our Father” - so that person has joined in.

And hymns do the same thing. We learn our faith by what we sing. In my final sermon as Rector of St. James’s, Cambridge, MA, I made the point that the people of God would most likely never remember a single one of my sermons - but they would remember the songs we sang. Let’s face it sister and brother preachers. Do we truly expect a dying person to be sustained by the three points of one of our elegantly crafted and eloquent sermons! No, most likely they’ll be recalling a song or a snippet of the Liturgy.

But here we encounter a problem in the Episcopal Church. So many of our hymns, great as they are, are very wordy. That is fine when they are matched to a memorable tune, but a combination of complicated texts and challenging tunes can be frustrating. Working through that frustration can bring great rewards, and it’s worth the effort. But I believe that we need to supplement them with the kinds of texts and tunes which we will be singing through the week.

Some congregations have attempted this with the use of what is called “praise music”. The tunes can be quite catchy - repetitive as they are, but the texts leave much to be desired. Too often they have sentiments such as “God is great and mighty, and we are nothing”. They use words such as “power” and “majesty” and “victory”; rather than words such as “friend”, “lover”, “partner”.

In other words, they posit a God who is only “way out there”, rather than a God who is here and now.

“But wait a minute”, you ask, “don’t we pray, ‘Thy Kingdom come’”. Has not Jesus taught us to pray for the kingdom: a kingdom of power, majesty and victory?”

Yes, Jesus does us to pray that way, but he also says that the kingdom of God is within you.

And that “you” is a plural. The life of the kingdom is experienced here and now in the midst of the beloved community of love, friendship and partnership.

The people of St. David’s are learning that through the song you sing each week.. “Surely the presence of God is in this place …. I see glory in each face”.

That is a song which stays with us through the week. We aspire to see glory in the faces at worship here. But just here?

For we live a real world, not two worlds. Good atheists have reasons to assert that there is no supernatural world. Fearful believers are convinced that there are two worlds - one is natural and the other supernatural.

The division between secular and sacred is artificial - one created by priests, preachers and pastors in order to give them a role as guardians and gatekeepers of the so-called sacred.

Christian faith states that there is but one world. It is the world in which Jesus was most comfortable, the world of the marketplace, the tavern and the fisherman’s wharf.

There is one world, and it is the world of glory in each face here in this place; and glory in each face in the bazaar, the marketplace.

We learn our faith by rote in our songs here, not as a retreat from the world; but in order that our intuition and inquisitiveness may be honed to encounter the love and glory of God in faces all around us.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I kept a silence, then we did the following in place of the Creed.


Yesterday Mindy Ratner, on NPR, said that J.S. Bach wrote both sacred and secular music. That distinction would have made no sense to Bach who wrote four letters at the top of every manuscript - AMDG “to God’s Glory”.

I believe that it is all music which awakens in us the possibility of moving from memorisation to intuition.

So we shall omit the Creed this morning in favour of singing a chant from the wonderful Taize community in France. The words are printed in your bulletin. “Praise the Lord, all you people”.

The melody comes from a the late 15th Century, and it is known as “La Folia”. That melody has been used by literally scores of composers, including Corelli, Scarlatti, Geminiani and Beethoven.

“La Folia” means “mad” or “empty-headed”, and the melody originated in Portugal as a fertility dance!

And we shall sing it as a confession of faith; as something which will haunt us throughout the week; and to reject the chasm between secular and sacred in a fertility dance to the glory of God.

Laudate Dominum,
Laudate Dominum,
Omnes, Gentes,
Alleluia

Sermon July 22nd 2007

Sermon for July 22nd 2007
The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. David’s, Englewood, FL

Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42


Thank you for your invitation to be with you today. I am Michael Povey, and just
over a year ago I retired from my ministry as Rector at St. James’s, Cambridge, MA. I live in Sarasota.

On my first Sunday in retirement I attended one of the parishes in Sarasota. As I approached the main door, I saw the usher, a smart and very well dressed gentleman. He was deep in conversation, and as I approached, without turning to look at me, he held out his hand which was holding the bulletin. He spoke not a word.

A few Sundays ago I attended a different parish in the County. There the welcome was more than effusive. A pleasant woman grabbed my arm saying, “come with me, the Rector tells us that you MUST sign the guest book”. But when I went to take a seat, another woman said “that place is reserved for my husband”.

I am talking about welcome and the ways in which we greet visitors.

But “welcoming” can be little more than a technique, something we have been taught is important, but which is not in our hearts.

For behind the welcome must be the spirit of hospitality.

That spirit is deeply imbedded in near and middle eastern cultures. Hence that snippet of a story from Genesis. Three strangers arrive and in haste, Abraham and Sarah prepare a meal. They did not have to think long and hard about it, it was simply the right thing to do.

We do not hear “the rest of the story”, in which Sarah laughs at the very thought that she would have pleasure in their old age. (I am not sure if the “pleasure” is in the fact that she will have a child, or in what you have to do to conceive a child!). But they did what they had to do, and she conceived, and a son was born and named “Isaac” - which means “son of laughter”.

This is the story which lays behind the text in the letter to the Hebrews “do not forget to welcome strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”.

“Hospitality” - the natural thing to do - especially in Arab cultures. This was my experience in a visit to the Lebanon. It was impossible to enter a home without being treated to a feast of good food. And it was true for the culture of Jesus’ day.

Hence Martha invites Jesus into her home, and immediately sets about preparing a meal. She is intensely critical of her sister who is content to sit at Jesus’ feet.

We instinctively leap to the defence of Martha - after all, “someone has to do the work“. Surely Jesus is being more than a little hard on her.

I suggest two ways of looking at this story.

First, Jesus, addressing Martha in a gentle way: “Martha, Martha”, he says “you are distracted by many things”.

Is she being obsessive about her hospitality? Is this why she is distracted by many things?

(Have you ever been a dinner guest at which the hosts are so anxious to “get it right” that they fail to be welcoming to you? Maybe Martha was too anxious to “get it right”.)

Maybe the “one thing” to which Jesus refers is not only the Kingdom of God, but also “one simple dish”.

I hope that Jesus is saying “there’s no need to ‘put on the dog’ for me Martha, I want the pleasure of your company”.

When hospitality becomes an obsessive compulsion, we have missed the point.

I think that happened in the nearby parish when a person said to me “you MUST sign the guest book”.

When any ministry becomes obsessive then we have missed the point of serving Christ in each other. It does not all depend on us!

Second, hospitality involves listening. We are called to listen to our guests. That’s why Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better part. To listen to the stranger is part of the gift of hospitality.

And here I put in a personal plea for more silence in worship. We are often so busy in our liturgies, that we become “distracted by many things”. So we shall keep a bit of silence after this sermon, and before the Creed - just a little while to experience Mary-like hospitality - to listen.

To listen to the guest, to the stranger is an important part of ministry and hospitality.

that person may have some wisdom to offer which we need;
that person may have a heavy heart which is close to breaking;
that person may have a joy to share -

but we are so busy being hospitable that we do not hear them.

And we, in our busy-ness may just miss “Christ in them, the hope of glory”.

I am a talker, Lord am I a talker. But I am learning to listen.

I spend quite a bit of time at Resurrection House - that wonderful day shelter for homeless people in Sarasota.

Few people ever listen to the homeless.

We pass them by.
The police move them on.
Well meaning people tell them what to do.

But in the ministry of hospitality, which is what Resurrection House is all about, I am trying so hard to listen. For there are no “homeless” - but there are homeless people. And I want to be blessed by homeless people in the hospitality of listening.

An ancient Celtic rune puts it this way:


I saw a stranger today.
I put food for him
in the eating-place
And drink
in the drinking-place
And music
in the listening-place.

In the Holy name
of the Trinity
He blessed myself
and my family.

And the lark said in her warble
Often, often, often
Goes Christ
in the stranger's guise.

O, oft and oft and oft,
Goes Christ
in the stranger's guise