Sunday, December 26, 2010

Looking Back

A wonderful memory this past year from our annual Preach on the Beach Eucharist at Tods Point in Greenwich (May, 2010). In this photo, I am joined by two of the finest folks we've known during our years at Christ Church Greenwich -- Clawson Smith to the right, and Kip Burgweger to my left. Our sincere thanks once again to everyone at Christ Church for your love and support for me, Cheri, Emma and Ella.

Celebration of New Ministry

Wonderful friends Toni Daniels and Ian Cron joined us for my Celebration of New Ministry service here at St Simon's on Wednesday, Dec. 5th. In fact, Ian spoke to a luncheon with a nice group of local clergy, parishioners, and friends and then later that evening preached. Cheri, Emma and Ella and I were also so grateful that our long time dear friend Toni Daniels could join us from New York City. Toni is the Co-Director of Mission for the Episcopal Church.

Christmas Eve - 2010

The bus ride from St George’s College
in the center of Jerusalem
to Bethlehem’s Manger Square - as it is called today,
is actually only 6 miles…

That’s about from here to Eglin AFB.

And so, n this particular day, I was part of
an Anglican and Palestinian Christian group of pilgrims
headed to see the birth place of Jesus.
Which truth be told, was most likely a cave…

Anyway, our bus pulled up in Manger square and just as I stepped out,
there was loud automatic machine gun firing off / in the distance.
no one panicked, in fact, most folks didn’t even flinch.

I was not amused…
but just as things settled
a young child from our bus,
who was a Lebanese Christian,
bolted across the square on a bee line for
small stone entrance to the 4th century church
which the Emperor Constantine’s mother St Helen named
the Church of the Nativity.

We all followed and just as the child came to the manger,
she yelled out in Arabic…
“I found the Baby Jesus!”

Sometimes it takes a child to discover the truth, doesn’t it?

And so on this Christmas eve night,
you and I have come here to the manager, too…
And I suspect we are all searching for that same, little Baby.

Where is He?
We need him…don’t we.
2010 has been a long hard year for many of us, right?

The old King James says,
that precious baby is now wrapped in swaddling clothes
and waiting for us to come see him.

But trouble is before we can reach the manager….
somewhere off in the distance
we stop and hear –
not gun shots,
but the soft sound of a tinkling bell.

It’s the bell of irony.

And that tiny bell reminds me
that on this very feast of the Nativity
when we so much want everything to stay same,
I can get trapped into believing
that Christmas is only about
keeping sentimental memories…

So this bell jolts me back into reality…
back to the truth
that Christmas means far more than this.

Christmas is about celebrating
the greatest moment of change in human history.
A moment when God enters into time
and nothing is ever the same again.

Incarnation means change.
God comes into our time
into our space
into our lives
and shakes things up.

In fact, my favorite theologian,
the German protestant Jurgen Moltman, says…
“To believe in God, is to believe in change.”

Christmas is nothing more than a constant celebration
that our lives will never be the same
and that every year, we are…
older, wiser, balder…
but still engaged with God,
the God of history,
who comes to change the world.
To create life out of death.

Of course, God doesn’t change…but Life does.

And how ironic, all this…
that on a day when we want absolutely nothing to change
we are, in fact, celebrating the greatest change ever.

For those of us who grew up in the 60s,
you’ll remember that John Lennon and the Beatles
lead the way for cultural change with their song Revolution.

It seems to me there is a spiritual revolution
taking place today across America.

In fact, Ian Cron and St. Francis are both right,
this Revolution is not something Christians should ever fear.
Because change is the nature of our spiritual life.

Green growth always comes after the fire…doesn’t it?
Change means we are alive,
growing from death into life.

So where is that revolutionary child
who comes to show us the changing Kingdom Of God…

Here is a tip –
You won’t need MapQuest to find Him….
from this point in your journey, it’s all about
faith, prayer and an open heart.

We need to claim God’s Kingdom now
and wrap ourselves up,
completely in this gift of Christmas night,
I'm going to.

Enjoy these visions of angels,
shepherds, the manger,
and keep it exactly the way it has always been.

Just today, just for this one more day,
let it be comforting and traditional.

Let the birth of Jesus tonight be familiar, warm and life giving.

Tomorrow can wait…
But for today,
and especially for you Christmas and Easter friends,
for this one special day,
let us relax into the peace that is silent and holy…

Into a place where time it-self seems to stand still.

May God’s Holy Spirit lead you back to Manger Square –
because tonight you can find the Baby, Jesus.
He is here. He is alive.

He is the Prince of Peace, God’s Joy to this complex world.
So, Come Let Us Adore Him!
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Costly Grace - Sept 5th

There is absolutely nothing subtle
about this Gospel reading today, is there?

Sometimes in our long Pentecost summer readings
the lectionary offers us
interesting parables, miracle stories about fig trees and such…
which can leave us scratching our heads
wondering what in the world Jesus wants from us.

But not today…
you’d have to have been taking a nap to miss out on this one.

Jesus says very clearly to the large crowd traveling with him…
“Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me
cannot be my disciple.”

In other words --
”Do not begin something
if you are not sure, you can successfully complete it.”

Remember about 20 years ago…
the popular Steven Covey book
7 Habits of Highly Effective People?
Habit number 2,
has always been one of my favorites
and maybe the most challenging --
“Begin with the end in mind.”

Jesus is pretty much telling his followers
before you begin this journey with me to Jerusalem,
and you’ll remember Luke verse 9:51 –
when he sets his face toward Jerusalem,
he knows what the End will look like.

So, He begins his journey with the Cross in mind.

But Jesus turns to us today and says once again,
costly discipleship means --
we must change.

Change our view of everything…
in business, family, at school, and here at Church…
from Self to All.

Because this call is to walk away from
the way the world, of culture, and of society
which encourages “me before you.”

This theme hits pretty close to home for us, doesn’t it?
As we begin our relationship
between rector and congregation.

We’re in this early honeymoon period aren’t we?
thinking, dreaming, expecting and waiting
to see what God has in-store for us,
as disciples…
and just what the cost is going to be?

Saint Luke’s Gospel has Jesus using the story of the king
going off to war
without sufficient soldiers and strategies
and then the man who begins building and can’t finish,

But, probably the one that troubled me the most
from my childhood --
“but why must we hate our fathers and mothers,
brothers and sisters….” Well,

Seriously, make no mistake…
Jesus is not asking us to literally hate those we love,
what he wants to get everyone’s attention on is this…
we can not let any one or anything
come between us and God.

This would simply become a good definition of Sin.
Anything which separates us from the Love of God alone is Sin,
and must be forgiven.

For all would be followers of Jesus,
this has to be a foundational faith question –
“Are we able to measure up to the demands of this Gospel?”

And in our own unique context here at St Simon’s
we would do very well to reflect on this
both individually in our spiritual lives
and again corporately in our call to future ministry
to those who do not know
the healing, forgiving Love of God.

Adam Clayton Powell, Sr…
the great preacher and pastor
from Harlem’s famous Abyssinian Baptist Church,
in the 1940s coined the phrase Cheap Grace.

Later Dietrich Bonhoeffer would expand on this,
"cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness
without requiring repentance;
Cheap grace is without the cross,
grace without Jesus Christ."

And that’s why this question is so tough…so fundamental for us.

In his sermon on the Mount, Jesus says…
“if you want to be my follower
here is what you’ve got to do…”

You will have a moral, ethical and spiritual responsibility
not to the Real Housewives of New Jersey…this is Cheap Grace

But to Costly Grace which is to the poor, the grieving,
the hungry, the peacemakers,
and those being persecuted.

Discipleship is tough and serious business…
are we up for it?
In our church and in our lives…

Remember at Baptism --
we are called on to respect the dignity of every human being?

that means --
ALL God’s Children…Everyone.
Desmond Tutu preaches this over and again…
ALL means ALL

So, Costly – how can I do it?

Not to despair…
this is not a message of hopelessness,
in fact, this text is rooted in Hope.
Because, “the rest of the story” is…
God has assured us we will never be alone,
or separated from him.
Romans 8, right?

But Psalm 139:1 –
“Lord you have searched me out and know me…”

We can do this…God knows me, has searched for me.

So, working together with God,
we can embrace whatever is to come…

Just think of what has happened
since that hot and steamy July 1st, 1945 evening
when The Rev Dr Charles Farrar,
Rector of Christ Church Pensacola
drove over here to Camp Walton
for that historic first Evensong.

Do we have what it takes to follow Jesus?
You bet we do.
And more than ever.
After 60-plus years,
this is a strong, proud parish full of faithful disciples.

Christ calls us now to imitate
His spirit of humble generosity and compassion
by picking up the crosses of others
who are stumbling under even heavier crosses than ours.

Faith embraced at baptism
is unfailing hope
which transforms the crosses we are to carry in this life
into instruments of Amazing Grace
and Resurrection Power.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Great to be back along the Gulf Coast

View from my office! Well, actually the back of the church building.

Nevertheless, we are off to good start at St Simon's and appreciate all the prayers and support. Our family feels very blessed with so many wonderful friends - it's made a huge difference with this transition from Connecticut back to the Gulf Coast.

First Sunday at St Simon's

There are moments in life,

which come to us…it seems,

from beyond the stars .

Moments which are precious, loving and so grace-filled…

we never want them to end.

You can probably think of a few, I am sure, in your life.

And so it is today,

we find ourselves in just such a moment.

Because today we gather here at St Simon’s and are filled to the brim

with an abundance of new blessings…

It is a blessing to worship God in such a beautiful sacred space.

It is a blessing for a fresh opportunity

to regroup and rethink

how we can better serve God’s people.

I am indeed honored and excited

to be called as your eighth Rector,

and to claim these moments with you, along the way.

Jesus loved people…

and he loved observing people –

he would have been a great Walmart greeter.

Jesus had an eye for the person in the corner,

the blind man, the woman scorned

and, today, the one so crippled by a spirit,

she couldn’t even stand up straight.

Jesus’ first instinct

was to touch others with Compassion.

But, Sabbath is supposed to be about rest.

And there is no rest for one who is crippled by pain.

So with a word and a touch of his hand,

Jesus heals this woman,

and immediately she stands up and praises God. Something old has been made new!

Well, let me just warn you,

God is fixing to do a whole lot of new and exciting things

right here at St Simon’s…

Old things are now ready to be transformed

into something New!

As many of you know, my wife Cheri Smith grew up here,

and I was born and raised over at Trinity Church, Mobile.

It’s still hard to believe, isn’t it?

Who would have ever dreamed…

only wish our dear friend Ed Horton,

my dad, and Cheri’s dad were here…

*Gen. Doolittle and Malcom at Eglin/Hurlburt.

Well, a few weeks ago,

I said good-bye to many wonderful dear friends and colleagues

at Christ Church Greenwich, Connecticut.

And in the midst of saying good-bye and thinking of this ministry…

I realized something significant…

I believe there is a disconnect taking place

between Religion and Spirituality.

What I mean by this is…

many folks in their 20s, 30s, and even a few 40s/50s…

have grown up in a totally different spiritual environment,

than their parents or grandparents did.

Church is different now.

Church membership and financial giving are clearly different…

Making time for God, has changed.

But, what I am discovering,

as someone who is almost 50, is…

there remains in every human being

a very deep longing for Spiritual Connection,

for transformation….

for a better way to live and breath.

Especially when life hurts…

Connecting to the sacred mystery of life is important…

and longing for answers to profound questions and doubts,

about personal and professional ethics

for conflicting societal standards,

are indeed all appropriate and good.

But, unfortunately, there is bad news for us…

because many now see The Church –

mainline protestants, and Roman Catholics --

as a less relevant community for spiritual growth.

In fact, I think you will discover

that even among some evangelicals

there is push back now…

Because what is emerging

is this deeper longing for

authenticity, relevance

and connection with The Living God.

Who is real…and knowable.

This is not about Mega Church,

Conservative or Liberal…

its all about what am I to do

with this dark emptiness inside…

I am tired of keeping up with the latest,

cars, boats, clothes, house…

In other words,

many are saying…

there’s got to be more to this life,

than managing my daily appearance.

Seekers of Jesus Christ

need a safe space to connect with Him.

To fall in love with Him.

To Worship Him.

This is really not rocket science…

It’s called FAITH.

And as you know,

“Faith is the evidence of things hoped for

and the assurance of things to come. “

Maybe one of our first faithful tasks together

may very well be to ponder all this…

Asking for God’s help

as we seek to serve Christ in all people.

My immediate predecessors,

Bill Richter, Jim Spencer and Ed Campbell

all provided solid leadership here.

And you certainly have a long rich history

of successful ministry here…

You already know what is needed

to nourish a healthy congregation.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in his book,

Where God Happens,

says -- “A healthy church is one in which we seek

to stay connected with God

by seeking to connect others

with God.”

Fortunately, we don’t have to do this alone…

Jesus shows all of us the fundamental way to be:

and that is -- be Compassionate Observers.

Prayerful Observant Christians point the neighbor to Christ,

and show the same compassion that Jesus did.

Jesus says,

“come to me all you who are heavy-laden;

and I will give you rest. “

We at St Simon’s,

are called to serve all those who seek

the Face of God

and need rest.

As St Francis loved to say so long ago…

“Always, we begin again.”

We begin with this moment…

A moment when The Word

has come very near to us

from across the stars,

and has landed right here in our hands.

So, let’s grab it,

claim it,

love it,

and then give it away to others.

If you are ready,

I am ready!

Let’s get this started…


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Photos from final Sunday at Christ Church

Many thanks to Joanne Bouknight for these wonderful photos on such a glorious final Sunday of worship for us at Christ Church Greenwich. Cheri, Emma, Ella and I will always cherish these seven years with you all and look forward to visiting next summer. Until then, my heartfelt thanks go out to Clawson Smith, Lynn & Scott Smith, along with Audrey Schaus and Kamal Browning for helping host such a beautiful reception for all of us at the Tomes-Higgins House.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Saying Good Bye to A Ministry and Friends at Christ Church Greenwich

Let me just say,
it feels great to be here with all of you this morning.

Somehow I can not believe this will be my last time
to stand here in this great pulpit,
but it’s safe to say, it could be a quite while
before I am back to preach.

Nevertheless, it always feels good to be in this
beautiful sacred space.
I will miss it.

I have to admit I am already wondering
what Christmas Eve is going to feel like in Florida.
It just won’t be the same…

Today is Sad for me in a lot of ways.
Sad because I love the people of this church so much.

Cheri and I could never ask for better friends here…
especially the distant members of her Smith family tree --
Clawson and all your family,
and more Smith’s - Scott and Lynn.

But, anyone who knows me, knows that I love all people.
Not just Smiths…
I am an extrovert off the charts, sometimes…
Cheri, Emma and Ella will tell you,
I enjoy talking, maybe too much…
I hear - “can we go now!”
Happy clergy families = 2 cars.

It has been both a blessing and privilege
to serve along side you.
I feel like I have learned a lot…grown in so many ways.

One of my brothers who is about 12 years older than me
and a banker in Mobile, said –
“Oh, this Church business will be good for you.
It’s easy work.
You only have one book to read,
and it’s a one-day work week!”

I said,
actually, Episcopalians have two books…

Nevertheless, I will miss you all.
Cheri, Emma and Ella join me in saying
thank you for our time together.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about our time…
the baptisms, weddings, confirmation, divorces, funerals,
staff meetings, chaplain at Belle Haven.
It’s been a long ride hasn’t it…

Thank goodness for my three-years of CPE chaplaincy training
at Greenwich Hospital.

But through it all,
to follow in the path of other assistants like
Sydney, Terry Ellsbury, Sandy Stainer, Al Votow,
Ted Babcock, Lee Walker, and Pam Strobel, etc…
has been a real honor for me.

But let me just say this from MY heart,
there has never been anyone
who is more thankful to God than I am
for these last seven years of my life here.

Our girls have grown up in a comfortable
clergy home at 8 Ridge Road,
benefited from the Cos Cob School,
our friends in the Cos Cob community.

Where, Cheri says,
we have been more embedded than the Russian spies!
ALL will be forever a priceless gift…

Now, speaking of friends,
we meet three of Jesus’ closest in Luke’s classic story…

Mary and Martha of Bethany and their brother Lazarus.
I read recently that some scholars now believe
Lazarus was “the Beloved Disciple” at the foot of the cross.
Of course, we don’t know this…

But, what we do know is this --
Jesus makes it very clear to ALL Martha’s –
past and present,
stop the worrying!

He says, we are “worried and distracted by many things.”
Boy, that’s the truth, isn’t it?

Stop. Settle down and listen,
especially to those you love.

Even St. Paul jumps into this…
and says, “Do not be anxious,”
especially, the men and women
who are trying to work out the practicalities
of living the Faith in a hostile world,
and among people who believe religion and
a personal relationship with God
is a total waste of time.

I can’t even begin to count the number of funerals I have done
where I see such an emptiness in certain loved ones
who appear to have no experience or interest in a life of faith.

It’s like they have been transported to a foreign land,
with no language, feelings, or means to express
human pain and grief
to a Living, and Loving God.

There is a Richard Dawkins, blankness which is sad.

Unfortunately, religion in this post-modern, post-Christian world
is often viewed by some people as untrustworthy.
Maybe in some cases, with just cause!
Nevertheless, there is a vast sea of emptiness in our complex world.
My hope is we can now move beyond distractions
and into a more sacred non-anxious place,
called un-conditional Love.

There is a clear task ahead for us Episcopalians…
we can not mess this thing up!

We are in prime position to welcome seekers.
Seekers who are looking for a new way forward,
away from hatred, judgmental religious anger,
into a Faith/Church filled with big welcoming tents
just like Abraham at Mamre.

St Paul said, “The Lord is very near to us.”
What this means for 21st century Christians is this --
our hearts must be fixed where true joy is to be found,
and when “we make our requests known to God
in prayer and with thanksgiving,”
the peace of God will be ours.

Mary was right! Peace is still possible…

But let us act NOW and move forward in ministry,
both at St Simon’s and right here at Christ Church
to gain confidence,
live in love,

because underneath each one of us
will always…ALWAYS be
God’s everlasting arms.

May God bless you in this Journey.
And - I’ll see ya down that road!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Christ Church Greenwich Letter

Dear Members of Christ Church Greenwich,

I write to make an important announcement regarding the ministry of our priest and colleague, The Rev'd Mark L. Fitzhugh. I am proud to announce that Mark has been called to serve as the Rector of St. Simon’s on-the-Sound Episcopal Church in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. He will begin this new ministry in August.

Mark has served Christ Church Greenwich faithfully for the past seven years. He has been a pastor for this congregation and has helped to introduce new educational and evangelism initiatives for the congregation. Mark has also functioned more broadly for the church and its mission in Greenwich and the larger Church. He now will be in a program size congregation offering leadership for its development and growth.

We wish Mark, Cheri, Emma, and Ella, Godspeed as they make the transition to a new community; a town and region where there are extended family and many friends. I know that they will relish your expressions of best wishes and thanks. We will have the opportunity for farewell worship together on Sunday, July 18, with a reception for Mark and his family immediately following the 9:30 am service. You are welcome to thank them by giving a gift in their honor to a place which is special to the family, Kanuga Episcopal Conference Center, near Ashville, North Carolina, or your contributions are invited as we assemble a purse to honor his ministry here at Christ Church Greenwich.

May God bless the Smith Fitzhugh family and St. Simon’s Church in this time of new beginnings and transition. And... may we offer thanks for their presence in our community of faith.

With best wishes, I am,
Yours faithfully,
The Rev'd Dr. James B. Lemler
Christ Church Greenwich

Acceptance Letter to the people of St Simon's on the Sound

“Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny… This means that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in God’s creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth.” Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

I proudly accept the vocational call of the Vestry of St Simon’s on the Sound to share my gifts in ministry as your next Rector. I am especially grateful for the work of your search committee, wardens, and vestry.

The quote from Thomas Merton is exactly right. Our calling or vocation is to come together and share our own unique special gifts in ministry in order to build up the Body of Christ. God has called me to come and join your leadership efforts to do just this work in the Fort Walton Beach community.

I was born and raised in Mobile and grew up at Trinity Episcopal Church. For the past seven years, I have had the privilege of serving on the clergy staff at Christ Church Greenwich, Connecticut. And now, Cheri, Emma, Ella and I are excited to come back “home” to our beloved Gulf Coast and for this we are extremely thankful.

Clearly, St Simon’s Church has a long tradition of excellent ministry and I am pleased to team up with the countless number of amazing volunteers and staff members who make this church such a special and well respected part of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.

We look forward to meeting all of you and please keep us in your prayers as we begin our transition.

Every blessing,

The Rev’d Mark L. Fitzhugh

A New Ministry Begins at St Simon's on the Sound in Fort Walton Beach, Florida

I look forward to serving as the new Rector of St Simon's on the Sound Episcopal Church in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. My first Sunday there in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast will be August 22nd. This is an exciting time for our family, however it will be very sad to say good bye to so many wonderful friends here at Christ Church Greenwich and the Cos Cob School community.

Our thanks and praise to God for these seven years here in Connecticut. Now we set our faces toward the beautiful Emerald Coast (even with the terrible oil spill). Where we will be greeted by our family and friends from years past.

Please keep us in your prayers as Cheri, Emma, Ella and I make this transition. We are very excited and thankful for everyone's support and care.

Every blessing to you and those you love!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How to invite someone to Church?

This is both funny and very true. Good for us Episcopalians to watch and learn...

Please click on the above title and enjoy.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Great Video for Anglican Church Mission

I watched this amazing video earlier today and really believe this is the message our great tradition can and must proclaim to the world around us. Great Work!

Please check out this video -- Vision 2019: catch the buzz

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Remembrance & Community

Well, what an interesting combination, today is isn’t it…

Trinity Sunday landing squarely on

Memorial Day weekend.

Now that’s a lot to sort out…isn’t it?

But if you think about it…

both of these can be connected nicely, I think…

because today we see The Blessed Trinity in its fullest --

and at the same time here in America

honor the service of courageous people

in the name of Freedom.

Both of these are principally about

Remembrance and Community.

Specifically for American Christians

we can remember the ultimate sacrifice of Christ Jesus

for the redemption of the world,

and through His loving act/gift,

we can now here in our particular context

receive God’s Holy Spirit in faith.

And truly live as free people.

And as we learned last week,

the Holy Spirit becomes for us 21st century Christians

a whole new means or platform onto which

we can now grow into and fully experience

God’s continuous revelation for all of creation.

In other words, God’s presence is revealed by the Spirit

fully and completely when we remember Jesus here at the table

as we gather as a community.

So, there is no heresy or theological issue,

saying that

Community is strengthen and renewed

by Remembrance of those who have come before us.

Jesus and those we have loved along the way.

Now, speaking of memory…

I have a very clear memory of My mother and I

sitting at the kitchen table.

I’m writing on paper…

and must be in the first grade.

I remember the daunting task

of forming each letter slowly and with care.

But somehow my hand did not do

what my brain wished it would,

and my letters bore little resemblance

to those at the top of my tablet…

due in large part to my dyslexia.

Frustrated with my slow progress,

I remember asking my mother

to write my name on my tablet.

With ease she took the pencil and with graceful,

fluid strokes formed the letters of my name…

Mark Fitzhugh.

I remember asking, “Is that my name?”

She said, “Yes.”

And pointed to Mark and then to Fitzhugh,

sounding them out as if I had never heard them before.

And what is interesting for you to know is –

I remember a sense of awe, thinking, “That’s my name.

That’s me, right there on that piece of paper. My name.”

There was a feeling that somehow I was more real,

more important, more permanent

because my name was written down before me.

Names are important.

Trinity Sunday is about remembering the names

of the three aspects of our one God.

Memorial Day Is About Names
Tomorrow our nation pauses to remember

those who have given their lives

in service to their country.

At last count, I believe the number is now

over 5,000 US deaths in the Iraqi and Afghanistan war…

I calculated that if we read one name per Second,

it would take us well over an hour & half

to read the complete list.

Who are some of the Names you Remember

on this Memorial Day Weekend?

Today I remember

three incredibly brave young men

who could very easily slip into history

and never be remembered.

These three 20 year old men

flew B25 bombers alongside Gen Jimmy Doolittle

as volunteers in a surprise air raid over Tokyo

on April 18, 1942, following Pearl Harbor.

As some may recall, my father Bill Fitzhugh

was on that very same mission along with 75 others,

but three of his closest friends –

First Lieutenants Bill Farrow, Dean Hallmark

and Sergeant Harold Spatz,

were all three captured

following their plane crash

and were executed six months later in Japan.

Memorial Day is about names…

these three will not be forgotten.

Some of you here may have served in World War II,

or Korea, in Viet Nam, Iraq or in other arenas.

I would like for you to take a minute and either

silently or aloud…name those people on your heart today.

God Remembers all our names…
But there was a time in ancient Israel

when the people feared that God had forgotten them.

So, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah

to remind them that He had not forgotten them,

and He said -- “I have inscribed you on my palms.”

Some people – even politicians –

sometimes write things on their palms.

We do it to remember.

God did it because He can not forget.

But, how does God write your name on his palm?

Remember Thomas saying —

“Unless I see the nail marks in Jesus’ hands

and put my finger where the nails were,

I will not believe it.”

And then a week later Jesus said,

“Thomas, your name is written on my palms.

Written in these nail prints,

written in my own blood.

I haven’t forgotten about you.”

In the palms of Jesus’ hands

are written all of our names.

Especially today we see the names of

Dean, Bill, Harold, and your loved ones…

But Jesus died with us in his heart,

with our names engraved on his palms.

Indelible reminders that our names

are cherished and never forgotten

by the one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Meeting Desmond Tutu

Spent a wonderful Saturday, April 17th in Hartford at the Ordination & Consecration of the 15th Diocesan Bishop of Connecticut - Ian Douglas. Also, met a new "friend" along the way, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. :)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Easter 2 - Unlocking the Doors

When I was at The General Seminary in Chelsea,
Cheri and I moved into what the Seminary called
a second floor two bedroom apartment.
Today, I would call it more like a hallway with two closets…
it was small and loud.

But one of the things,
which still stands out to me about that building
was the front door entrance.

Now granted we were coming from a small town
in the deep south,
but I remember that door had several locks on it.
And I wondered why we would need so many.

I discovered that the benefit was mostly emotional.
Because I after unloading the moving van,
and picking up dinner at Frankie’s corner deli,
I was just about to our building
when I suddenly realized three men
were walking very fast
and coming up right behind me.

I stepped up my pace a bit and hurried up the steps
to put my key in the door…
finally opening the door I rushed inside
and just as it “clicked” shut behind me,
I suddenly felt safe again
and there was a calm hush of peace.

I think of that door and that feeling of protection
when I listen to people describe how they cope with their fears.

Because, in a way,
some of us can keep our hearts behind a huge door, full of locks…
when something or someone makes us afraid.

If someone tries to get in before they’re invited,
especially if that heart has been hurt before,
then we hear that "click" of the lock again.

Well, on the night of that first Easter,
the disciples were huddled together behind a locked door.
But, I often wonder what they were really afraid of?

Somehow, I don’t think
they were only worried about those who had killed Jesus.
Their fear must have been even deeper.

Maybe they didn’t want to deal with the scorn
of those who knew they had failed to protect Jesus.
In spite of all their earlier boldness,
they were now afraid of the cross.
Ashamed of his death.

Maybe like the disciples,
we too can try to hide
when we’re ashamed.

We keep our hearts locked up tightly
because we know the truth about ourselves…
and the truth is that we are really NOT what we want to be,
or even what we pretend to be.

In fact, Garrison Keillor –
who rarely has time for hypocrites, once said..
"We always have a backstage view of ourselves.
We let the audience see only the neatly arranged stage.
But behind the curtain all kinds of things are lying around…”

Very often here in Greenwich…
the beautiful manicured lawns and tall stone walls
are not big enough to protect us from pain and fear.

I am sure there are many failures,
guilt and shame to go around for all of us.

Trouble is American media like People magazine tells us,
that we are living in a shameless society…
where post-modern people are no longer bothered by shame.

Well, what the heck is going on with
Tkki Barber, Jesse James,
Tiger Woods and his disgusting Nike ad last week.

Well, I refuse to allow this culture
to define American moral and ethical standards…
I believe every human being at some deep level
is bothered by something.
In fact, if allowed…
it can plague our souls.
I know it does mine…

Psychologists say that shame sweeps over us
when we overstep our abilities,
or when our fantasy about who we would like to be
encounters the backstage reality
of who we REALY are.

Nothing is more crippling than working at hiding shame.
We lock up more and more doors,
sealing off more and more rooms of the heart
to prevent our true selves from being discovered.

This moves us right into the heart of today’s message…
Jesus Christ comes looking for us.
And, according to John’s text,
he walks right through the locked door to find us.

Jesus shows us his wounds from the cross,
which are the marks of our forgiveness.
Then he says, "Peace be with you."
We are forgiven,
loved and now set free…

The word Forgiveness actually means "to free up" or "to let go."

But not freedom to continue making bad choices,
but freedom to accept Christ as the ONLY means
to lasting change and healing of heart.

No question, everyone at some point makes bad choices…
count me in that group!

But, I like these words from Lewis Smedes,
"When you forgive…you set a prisoner free.
And then somehow you discover, that that prisoner was really you."

What this means is we disciples
are not called to produce forgiveness by ourselves.

We are simply called to open the locks,
throw open the doors,
and walk with Boldness and Peace
into the warm Light
of the Resurrected Christ.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter Vigil 2010 - Thin Slicing

Have you ever heard of the term….
“Thin Slicing?”

And I am not talking about a beautiful birthday cake…
or a nice piece of Apple pie.
This is an idea or concept.

Well, if you are a fan of the Canadian journalist
Malcolm Gladwell,
like I am,
you might remember Gladwell introduced this term
a few years back in his book called,

makes the claim
that quick decisions
based on narrow slices of experience
are actually more effective…
than decisions based on
long term process thought and consideration.

Now, my apologies here go out to those of you
who do consulting for a living,

I actually believe Gladwell is on to something.
When he says,
snap decisions made “in the blink of an eye”--
can reveal…“everlasting Truth.”

At least, according to Gladwell,
for some individuals
first impressions, gut feelings and knee-jerk reactions
are often, quite reliable.

To prove his point, he packs this book with,
great examples such as when
Art Historians can spot a fake in a second;

Marriage counselors will know, within minutes
after a couple walks into their office,
whether or not
they will make it past five years.

A tennis coach who can tell when a player
is about to double-fault.

It’s all about “thin-slicing,” he says…
that is, developing the skill to notice,
in a split-second,
by a certain look,
or a tilt of the head,
what is going to happen.

To break it all down,
a “snap judgment”
is usually “right-on-the-money.”

We can trust our instincts…
it’s ok to “go with that gut feeling.”

So on this most Holy Night…
and in this Ancient Easter Vigil liturgy,
what does your gut tell you about
believing in the power of Resurrected Christ?
Certainly, there are many in popular culture today
who make a living trying their very best to debunk
the Resurrection of Jesus.

Well, if you are wondering about this, too…
you would be been in the same boat
with some of those early disciples, long ago
who failed to notice the ultimate thin slice,
on that early Easter Sunday morning.

fortunately for us,
there was still one person left,
who trusted her gut that morning,
when she woke up.

Mary Magdalene.

She knew deep down in her heart,
that Jesus would never leave her.
She got up that morning
and walked out to the tomb one more time.

And there in just a split-second she encountered
the glory of the Risen Christ
and, in the blink of an eye,
she knew her life and the life of all the disciples --
that is you and me --
would never be the same again.

Mary Magdalene trusted her gut feeling,
that the God of Abraham who loved her into creation,
would never abandon her to the darkness of death.
None of us here tonight
have set our eyes on the Risen Christ just yet
as Mary Magdalene did or Peter, John, or Thomas.

But when it comes to what we truly believe,
about Christ and our life after death…
what does your “gut-reaction” tell you?

The poet Gerard Manly Hopkins said,
the risen and glorified Christ presence,
“plays in a thousand places,”
in Extraordinary experiences,
in Ordinary friends
and in all the “thin slices” in between.

There are many sure signs of the Resurrection
“slicing” their way into our life today…
in things we see, hear and touch…

They are found in the child we hold,
or the feel of a canoe paddle moving through clear water…
we can come to trust what we see and feel.

But Faith is a funny thing, isn’t it?
It is not always easy.
For me, faith is really about taking that leap…
going with my gut,
even when my head tells me something else.

The Holy Spirit can show us the way…
to those thin slices revealing the TRUTH

And the truth is –
Jesus Christ has been Risen from the Dead…
He is Alive…
and in the blink of an eye,
we are all set free forever!

Alleluia, Christ is Risen,
The Lord is Risen, indeed.

Monday, March 29, 2010

June Einhorn Memorial Service Homily

Recently, I was out walking around the block

over in Cos Cob…

And, it was a relatively quiet evening, for a change…

the generators had almost all been silenced.

And the night sky was as big and wide as Texas.

For a few moments looking up,

I felt like I had been transported back to my childhood…

to a wrinkle in time when I was just about 19 years old,

and my father had died of a heart attack.

A time, which I now call…

an "instantaneous, pivot of life."

Meaning - one moment your life is in place,

and a split second later,

it has changed forever.

So, I looked up

into the vastness of this enormous universe

and simply said…Wow!

Look at this creation…

Look at all the glorious details of life.

But , you know God,

“I still have a lot questions for ya”…

How is it that we can now see Putnam Hill covered

with hundreds of beautiful purple and white Crocus’

after such a disastrous storm last week?

How can this be possible, dear God?

Because we live on a planet

where we clearly can see your hand.

And it has given life and cause…

But far too often now

we continue to experience,

at a moment’s notice,

the precious, sweet gift of life torn away, from us.

How can these contradictions be possible?


Well, the popular 80s song writer, Karla Bonhoff --

tried to answer, when she wrote:

"We never know where life will take us,

and it's just a ride on the wheel.

And we never know when death will shake us

and we wonder how it will feel."

For me, when tragic death comes,

I feel scattered and just don't know how to feel,

except to be afraid and numb.

So, as I walked up our drive way,

I heard a voice coming from next door…

it was a child’s voice,

and it was as clear as a bell.

She said, only four words,

“Because, I love you.”

There it was…the answer!

In full bloom.

God loved June Einhorn into being on of all days -- June 1st, 1948

And from all who knew her,

June was clearly Number 1.

In fact,

both Eric and Lucinda Harris told me recently

that they have never know anyone

with such deep character and firm convictions.

June made a difference where ever she was.

And we saw that first had here at Christ Church

and with you all as Choir Family for sure.

Eric, Ashley, Nick and Terrence…

Dawn, Ann, Jack, and Jill --

We all feel so badly for each of you right now.

But somehow now through all of this,

God speaks to you with a broken heart, too

God weeps today, but God will never abandon us.

And long after this service is over,

you will always have our love and support, too.

Someone once defined grief as “the pain of letting go.”

I like that.

I think it accurately describes what we do

every time a loved one dies;

we have to let go, ready or not.

It felt like that yesterday in the memorial garden,

didn’t it?

And so, today we gather here to continue our grieving,

not so much to find absolute answers.

But in this grief, let us never forget

that what matters most for people of faith…

whether we are Jewish, Catholic, Episcopalian,

each one of us in our own spiritual journey,

can NOW fully understand…

this answer.

That is - the God of Abraham is the source of all life

and when we die

each of us returns to this very same source

of goodness and love.

And, if that’s not a message of hope…Then I don’t know what is.

Because, the essence of God is pure unconditional Love…

And that cannot be purchased.

Hope and Love are Simple, Free gifts.

It doesn’t take a Biblical scholar to figure this out!

They come under the heading called -- Grace.

It was in the midst of a cold Maine winter in 1848,

when the Shaker hymn writer Joseph Brackett, once wrote –

“‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free,

'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

'Twill be in the valley of Love and Delight.”

It seems to me this is exactly

where June is today, isn’t she?

With the Resurrected Christ,

surrounded by Love and Delight.

June Hume Einhorn

Today, as you enter the New Jerusalem…

We lift you to God.

We left you to God with all the love of our heart and say…

good bye and thank you in the very same breath.

Thank you for your loving presence in our lives…

You will always be loved.