For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.   (Isaiah 9:5-6)

Tramping boots and blood-drenched garments. These images herald the birth of the Messiah: the words we hear on Christmas Eve.  We’ve read them for years on that night, but perhaps have tuned them out of our hearing.  Even Handel’s Messiah skips over them. But this year we might notice them as though for the first time.

Despite all our attempts and desires to make Christmas warm and cozy--chestnuts roasting on an open fire, St. Nick softly landing on snow-blanketed roofs--the Biblical witness does not shy from the real and stark context of Christ’s appearing.  To the prophet Isaiah, God’s people lived under the very near and present danger of oppression, and even deportation after a hostile invasion by Assyria.  Jumping ahead to Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, we learn that the Holy Family is compelled to leave their hometown of Nazareth because the Emperor Augustus decreed a census--presumably to prepare for a tax that would help defray the exorbitant expense of Rome’s military expansion and occupation throughout the known world.  Even further on, “on the Fourth Day of Christmas,” those who are keeping to the liturgical calendar will hear, not of four calling birds, but of the slaughter by Herod of the Innocents, the brutal massacre of all the first-born males of Bethlehem on the orders of a thin-skinned and insecure tyrant who is afraid of being usurped by a mere newborn.

These are the settings into which God chooses to enter the world.  And these are the settings into which God chooses, in our own time, to continually take on our frail, broken, selfish, injured and fearful human condition.

Still ringing in our ears are the shouts of rallies, even in our own country, calling for the execution of a political adversary. Deeply disturbing to our hearts are the images of young children so traumatized by the destruction and displacement of their families in Aleppo that they cannot even cry.  Beyond our conception is the laughter of a young man confessing his murder of nine black parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charlestown, South Carolina.  Heartbreaking are the senseless deaths of hundreds, here in New Hampshire, caused by a scourge of opioid addiction that has touched families of every race and class.

 

Despite, indeed because of, all these facts and realities, I look forward more than ever to this Christmas, and I cherish even closer the joy and privilege of being a disciple of the Christ child.  In the midst of our perennial divisions and conflicts, I need to see and know that Holy Presence that is the “US’ that binds me together, however uncomfortably, with those with whom I may disagree, dislike, and even fear.  Jesus is the deep compassion of God-made-flesh that links all humankind with each other, that binds us to God’s creation, indeed to God’s own heart. The Bible tells us that God’s compassion in Jesus is the path toward peace, justice, love, and eternal life itself.  God chooses what is weak in the world to put the powerful and cruel in their place and to make all things new. 

 

Richard Wilbur in his poem “A stable lamp is lighted” captures the essence of God’s taking-on our flesh so that all human flesh can have means to God’s peace and glory. The poem was set to Hymn #102 in our Hymnal 1982.  I always look forward to hearing it, even more so this year. The final stanza reads:

Yet now, as at the ending,
The low is lifted high.
The stars shall bend their voices
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
In praises of the Child
By Whose descent among us
The worlds are reconciled.

May we enter anew the life of the one who came among us so that we may be reconciled with God and each other in Jesus, Immanuel, God-with-us.  And may our Christmas be filled with the steadfast hope and joy that God is still at work within us, doing things that we cannot even ask or imagine.  (Ephesians 3:20)

Posted
AuthorLaura Simoes

“Almighty God, we give you thanks for the gift of water.”  These are the words that open our prayer over water when we baptize your children into a life of freedom and life in your risen Son Jesus.  It was over water that you initiated the Creation.  Water is the source of life and is needed for the health of all we know of health.  And yet, O God, in our sin and brokenness, we have polluted this gift for so many, turning the blessing of water into a curse, and into an occasion for painful division, oppression, and the demeaning of the indigenous peoples of this land. Send your Spirit, O God, to your people, turn the hearts of those would threaten the health and safety of his sacred gift at Standing Rock.  Re-knit us together in bonds of love, a vision of justice, and deep peace that we have yet to know but we yearn for with a longing you have placed into our hearts, in the name of Jesus.   

Amen.

 

Posted
AuthorLaura Simoes

As I walked on the streets of Concord this morning, the sense of division in our society was very clear, as some citizens rejoiced and others looked profoundly dejected.  We all knew that no matter who won the election yesterday, that person would preside over a nation that is deeply fractured and hurting.  We also knew how afraid and angry so many of our fellow citizens are.  If half of us were tempted to deny that fear and rage, we all have to admit it now.

At such a delicate and vulnerable moment such as this, I take strength in remembering that, for followers of Jesus, such fractious and anxious, even dangerous, times as these are not unusual or even strange. Sure, times like these may seem strange for a certain class or segment of American Christians, who have for many decades enjoyed access to privilege, wealth, and power.  But, nervous times as these were not at all strange for the first disciples of Jesus and certainly not for the vast numbers of saints who have come before us. They are not strange for a majority of Christians in the Holy Land, in China, and in many other places on the planet. They were not strange even for generations of Americans who have faced sacrifice, war, and economic hardship. Even Jesus, on the night before he died, told his followers to find their true peace in him and, in the midst of persecutions, to take courage for he has already conquered the world with his love. (John 16:32-33)  

Recognizing me as a member of the Church, someone stopped me this morning to introduce herself.  She was feeling quite distraught this morning about the change in direction our country is taking, especially for refugees, girls, and religious and racial minorities. She asked, "What are we to do now?" She was a stranger, someone I've never met before, and it seemed that maybe such unplanned encounters will be a hidden blessing of these times.  The only words that came to me were:

Pray.

Seek justice.

Love mercy.

Walk humbly with your God. 

Pray some more.

Love your neighbor.

Don't go it alone.  There's been enough of that.

Never has there been a time in my life or ministry when this short list seemed such a high and urgent calling as it does now.

Now is the acceptable time, says the Apostle Paul. (2 Corinthians 6:2) Now.

Faithfully Yours in Christ,

+Rob

HERE to read the 214th Annual Diocesan Convention's Prayers of the People.  

 

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AuthorLaura Simoes

 

We thank you for the great resources of this nation. They
make us rich, though we often exploit them.
Forgive us.

We thank you for the men and women who have made this
country strong. They are models for us, though we often fall
short of them.
Inspire us.

We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in
this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we
have often hidden from its light.
Enlighten us.

We thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich                                                     

variety. It sustains our life, though we have been faithless
again and again.
Renew us.

We pray for our own needs, and those of others (pause)

We pray for those who have entered into life (pause)

Help us, O Lord, to finish the good work here begun.                                                                       
Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice,
and to abolish poverty and crime. And hasten the day when
all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will
glorify your holy Name. Amen.

Posted
AuthorLaura Simoes

Azure that morning. Later we learned that the flight paths
may have taken all three planes directly over our home.
Did they fly above the lawn, the forest in which the kids
imagined a perfect world away from adults, the path through the woods that led to their school playground?

Had I looked up, I would have seen those contrails in the
cerulean sky, never guessing such hatred could soar so.

This Sunday, we imagine the Good Shepherd coming for us.
Scanning the landscape to find us,
not to destroy or dismember or dis...
but to search, restore us and all that we've lost, 
before that day, on that day, and after that day.

Centuries ago, from the borderlands of Syria, 
--Aleppo?-- came a praying poet.
Ephrem saw the Shepherd who seeks us, 
not merely on the pasture ground, 
but from the skies. He praised:

"The Shepherd of all flew down
in search of Adam, the sheep had strayed;
on His shoulders He carried him, taking him up;
he was an offering for the Lord of the flock
Blessed is his His descent, his hovering!

Blessed is Your rising up!"1.

O Savior, fly down again. O carry us up from the smouldering Pile.

1. Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 CE) The Paradoxes of the Incarnation

Posted
AuthorLaura Simoes

Live without fear, your creator has made you holy, has always protected you, and loves you with a power and a presence that is stronger than death.

These words, adapted from a prayer of the twelfth century abbess St. Clare of Assisi, seem to resonant with many in the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire as they form a kind of preamble to the final blessing of the bishop at the conclusion of the Holy Eucharist.  This coming Sunday morning, a week after the horrible news from Orlando was just being reported, I will say them again from an altar where we celebrate the Resurrection. I address this prayer as much to myself as I do to the congregations. Even when we know that God’s intervention may not protect us from all suffering cause by disease or violence in this life, we all stand in need to be reminded of the indomitable power of God’s love, exhibited most supremely in the course of his own brutal and unjust death.  Even there on the Cross, the Gospel and the witness of theologians and artists through the ages assure us, even there on the Cross, God is at hand creating a good that is beyond our imagining or vision. 

As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminded us at his visit just last week, we are members of the Jesus Movement.  After the murder in Orlando of 49 LGBTQ persons, brothers and sisters all because they are children of God, we who remain have work to do. After the vigils, the Supplications, and the moments of silence that are taking place this week--all holy and important responses to our national crisis--it’s time for us to take action to reclaim the Gospel of Peace.

Recently, our Church published a series of essays by that title: Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: Challenging the Epidemic of Gun Violence.  I am supplying each of our parochial clergy with a copy as I urge them to use it in the coming year to begin deliberate conversations with our communities about this life and death issue facing our nation.  Our own Father Bill Exner, recently retired Rector of St. Matthew’s Church in Goffstown, contributed a chapter in this book in which he describes how he engaged in conversation with local gun shops.  Such conversations represent real and courageous leadership in these times.  They are actions that can come out of the many moments of silence we have all been invited to after such events as Orlando, San Bernadino, Charleston, Sandy Hook…

Bill readily agreed to help us organize and lead holy conversations in our congregations about guns, the Cross, and our Church’s response through the Resolutions of General Convention and more locally.  I look forward to working with him, a man who knows how to lead healthful, respectful discussions about difficult topics.  Without doubt, more actions, guided by the Holy Spirit, will come of these conversations.

Within each of our communities are persons like me.  I do not own a gun, having been raised by a veteran who instilled in me a robust fear of weapons.  There are members of our Church who own guns, not merely for sport, but to put food on the table.  There are also those who are adamant that any new restrictive gun legislation, even involving military assault weapons, will be an unwelcome infringement on their Constitutional rights.  I suspect that we have not spoken about these differences, not so much out of courtesy, but out of fear of hearing things that frighten us.

America’s relationship with the gun is an issue that engages some of our deepest fears--fears about our society, about personal safety, fears about the security of community in an age of terrorism.  I am convinced it is also a deeply theological issue that asks each of us: to whom do we put our ultimate trust as a follower of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who told his disciples to put down their own weapons? 

Clearly, there is a range of acceptable responses to this question.  As the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement, the Church would be negligent if we did not consult with Scripture, Reason, and Tradition to help inform our conscience about these critical matters that plague us now: terrorism, homophobia, the epidemic of violence of so many kinds, racism, xenophobia of all kinds, and the ongoing threats to our planet’s fragile health.  These are all matters of deep and ongoing concern.  But at this moment, guns have our attention.  May our churches be places of civil and respectful conversation. 

My deepest and continual prayer is that we do not give our lives over to fear, but may live in that radical freedom that comes when we live fully in the Risen Christ.  

Yours in the Peace and Love of Christ,

+Rob

The Right Reverend A. Robert Hirschfeld, Bishop, Episcopal Church of New Hampshire

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AuthorLaura Simoes

Easter 2016

The problem that every preacher has when approaching Easter is that the event it celebrates is simply too big, too meaningful, too life altering, too world-changing for words.  Every attempt to condense the meaning of the Resurrection into a 10-15 minute homily always makes us feel so inadequate and futile.  To borrow a poet’s phrase, each of our attempts to describe the mystery of Jesus’ rising from the dead is a “raid against the inarticulate.” 

But we try anyway.  Once more we go, into the breaches of our rationality, our sense making. Once more into the Garden of Joseph of Arimathea, where are face the puzzlement of the Empty Tomb, once more on the road to Emmaeus, once more onto the beach where the risen Jesus has prepared breakfast for us. We try anyway because we need to share the message, the Good News.   It’s as though there is a force of hope within the hardness and coldness of hearts that can’t resist sharing hope, even in the face of hopelessness and terror.

We’ve been drowning in terrible news recently.  The most recent is the horrific acts of terror in Brussels, the heart of the European Union, in the name of a twisted and hate-filled distortion of Islam.  Closer to home, in 2015 over 400 of our neighbors in New Hampshire died to drug overdoses, and its very likely that this year will see even more fall victim to drug deaths.  The world where hopelessness, desperation, violence in word and deed seem to be reign, our world, is the same world where God has shown up in Jesus.  It’s the same world where Jesus is born and is baptized.  Our fractured and frenzied world is the same world where Jesus heals, teaches, is ridiculed by frightened authorities, where he drives out demons and evil spirits from tortured minds, where he talks with outcasts, and makes friends with feared foreigners.   It’s this world where Jesus is among us, this world where Jesus is still being crucified, is suffering, longing to hold all human kind, all creation in an embrace of love that can change us by joining us to none other than God.

Jesus is dying along with us, and Jesus is descending into the hell of our world and our histories to rescue us, and grabbing each of us by the wrist so that we won’t get lost. Jesus is taking us out of the tombs of our sins, our fear, even our deaths, to new life.

This is news that I believe, news that I seek to throw my heart into.  This is the extravagantly good news that I still believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, will change the world.  It starts with you, and it starts with me.

The earliest witnesses to the resurrection were women like Mary Magdalene, who had no standing or legal status in the world of their day.  And yet, through their word, the world was turned upside down.  As we go into the Episcopal Churches of New Hampshire, this Easter weekend, I hope your vision of the world will also be turned upside down, so that you’ll literally taste and see that God in the Risen Jesus is bringing us “out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.”   

May the God of Hope fill you will all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

--The Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld

Bishop, Episcopal Church of New Hampshire

Watch a Video of Bishop Rob's Easter Message 2016 HERE.

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AuthorLaura Simoes