Month: May 2018

Mitties DeChamplain

THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD for Mitties McDonald DeChamplain, priest, will be offered on Saturday, June 2, at 10:00 AM, in the church of St Mary the Virgin in NYC. The Right Reverend Andrew M. L. Dietsche, bishop of New York, will be the celebrant. The Right Reverend Allen K. Shin, bishop suffragan, will be the preacher. A reception in the Parish Hall will follow the liturgy. Mother Mitties’ ashes will be interred at a later date at Saint Athanasius Episcopal Church at the Cathedral Center of Saint Paul, Los Angeles, California.

Because we will be at my daughter Lisa’s wedding this weekend, I will be unable to attend Mitties’ funeral. I was asked to write a piece for the service bulletin, which I share here before we get on the plane.

 

The Rev. Mitties DeChamplain was passionate about three things: her students, animals (especially her kitties), and the church. In the church, her most prominent role was preaching and teaching preaching. One of the things she emphasized to her students was having a high “Jesus Count” in your sermon. That’s basically a shorthand for the theological responsibility of the preacher. A sermon that has a high Jesus Count is focused on our Savior, not the preacher, and it’s concrete, rather than indulging in vague sentiment or doctrinal abstractions. Most important, it’s grounded in the human and humane, which came directly from Mitties’ appreciation of life and her desire to encourage each person to discover their own voice and speak in their own way.

Mitties loved cats, and she was always finding a way to love one or two more. I remember her crossing barriers into an off-limits area to rescue a kitten from a construction zone. Every year in observance of St. Francis Day, she would bless the animals at General Seminary, both those resident on the Close and any from the neighborhood that came. We still have a photograph on our refrigerator of Mitties in a red and gold cope cradling our white bulldog Thekla’s head to give her a blessing. For us, it epitomizes Mitties love of God’s creation.

Mostly Mitties loved her students – being with them gave her life and she dedicated everything to them. She nurtured them as future ministers of the Word and as friends. She counseled them and was consistently there for them. Mitties was very gentle, even retiring, but if the time came to stand up for her students she was fierce, whether with the administration or with the operators of jackhammers outside her preaching laboratory sessions. She travelled all over to support students at their ordinations; more than anyone I know. That love continues and it’s clear that those students return that love for Mitties, and also to their congregations.

A few weeks ago, we found out that Mitties was in the hospital again and that her condition was grave. A group of us gathered in her room in the ICU to be with her as life support was removed – colleagues and students and parishioners from St. Clement’s, St. Mary the Virgin, and Trinity Morrisania. We prayed and sang hymns and talked to her and to one another about our feelings for her. The next day, my wife Paula and I visited in the late afternoon. We prayed and read psalms. Paula started reading Facebook posts to Mitties, describing how her friends and family loved her, and showing her pictures that people had posted. We can’t know if she heard us, but her breathing became slower, gentler, and, eventually stopped.

Mitties died in the midst of the church that she loved so much and to which she had dedicated her life. “Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world; … May your rest be this day in peace and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.”

–Drew Kadel

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The Spirit helps in our Weakness

A sermon for the Feast of Pentecost, May 20, 2018

Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey

Today is the feast of Pentecost when the church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit. One version of that is the story in our lesson from the book of Acts. The Spirit alights on the apostles like tongues of fire and everyone in their own language understands, while the apostles preach the Gospel.  But the coming of the Holy Spirit is not just about a dramatic public event of evangelism. The Holy Spirit has always been regarded by the church as the presence of God, enlivening and guiding it.

In the Gospel today Jesus is addressing his disciples, anticipating that he will soon leave them—this is at the Last Supper, shortly before his arrest. And Jesus assures them that they will not be alone: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.” The church receives the Holy Spirit who continues Christ’s work among us and in the world.  Yet the world, the powers of selfishness, and service of power for the sake of domination is that very power that opposed Jesus and brought about his death.  Jesus says this: “When the Advocate comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” And “When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” The Truth that the Holy Spirit leads us into is reality—that is to say real, realistic reality—and that reality is the compassion of the God we know in Jesus.  We know that love of Jesus at the outset—any child can see it—yet it takes a whole lifetime to grow into that compassion.

The World, pre-occupied in serving self, cannot receive the Spirit because it does not see or know him—too often the Church paradoxically becomes that World, pre-occupied with fears and schemes, rather than the courage and love of Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, the Spirit does guide us, in our weakness and our blindness.

St. Paul says this near the end of the passage read from his Letter to the Romans today: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” The Holy Spirit is not something superficial, nor is it something emotional; rather it is the power of God among us, between us and within each of us, guiding and healing us in his love.

This passage appointed begins: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” A while ago, I read a wonderful book about the Roman Empire by Mary Beard called SPQR. While the book has little to do with religion and almost nothing about Christianity, it is clear that everyone in the Roman Empire at this time was very familiar with slavery and with adoption. The economy of the empire was based on slavery, from the lowest and harshest of menial labor in the mines, to very high functionaries in the households of the wealthiest aristocrats.

Wealth and comfort for the owners proceeded from the work of the slaves, yet they counted as nothing; they were regarded as invisible and of little or no worth. Any slave could be beaten or even killed, without the master having to even explain. Many early Christians were slaves and a substantial number of other Christians at the same time were owners of slaves. Everyone intimately understood the fear that dominated the lives of the slaves. Jesus, described himself as a slave to all—a most extraordinarily radical thing. Equally radical was that the church asserted that they followed this man, and honored him as God.

Adoption was also common in the Roman Empire, though not as common as slaveholding. Many Roman emperors were the adopted sons of the previous emperor. If a man of wealth and property did not have a son who he judged satisfactory to be his heir, he would choose someone to adopt as his son.  This was the Roman version of the succession schemes we often see at modern corporations, where today’s wealth is often concentrated. In the Roman Empire being adopted was a typical succession plan—those who were adopted achieved higher status and security than they had had previously.

So St. Paul says, “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” The Holy Spirit, which the church receives on Pentecost, takes us out of fear and slavery through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And not only that, every one of us is now adopted, not by a wealthy landowner, or by a Roman Emperor, but by the God who created heaven and earth. When we boldly and audaciously say, “Our Father…” at the breaking of the bread, that Holy Spirit is bearing witness “with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,” as St. Paul says. And he continues, “If, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” Suffering is indeed real, we can expect it, and the Holy Spirit enables us to face it squarely—without fear.

We are glorified with God as we live for others. We know the blessing of Christ’s presence through being generous and welcoming. We know God by looking Jesus in the face.

As it says in today’s psalm:

O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them

All the earth is full of your creatures.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in all his works.

He looks at the earth and it trembles; he touches the mountains and they smoke.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;

I will praise my God while I have my being.

May these words of mine please him;

I will rejoice in the Lord.

Bless the Lord, O my soul.

 

Hallelujah!

Mother’s Day: That they may have my Joy made Complete in themselves

A sermon for the seventh Sunday of Easter, May 13, 2018

Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey

I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves

Our Psalm today is Psalm number one, the very first psalm and it is really the summary of them all: “Blessed are they… their delight is in the law of the Lord … They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.” Real happiness comes from being a just person, following the will of God, trusting the love of God, even when things are not easy or restful, even when our prosperity does not look like what the rest of the world calls prosperity.

A few years ago, I was talking with the wisest woman who I know, the person who has taught me everything I know about hospitality. We were taking stock of what we had experienced and done together over the past several years. She said, “You know, hospitality comes from living a good life. A life that’s so good that you just want to share it.” We talked about that for a while. As far as finances and the goods of the world, we do pretty well, but there are those who have a lot more money, fancier houses or apartments and so forth, who are not as hospitable. And it appears that they are not as happy, they don’t have as good of lives, even on their yachts.

By the same token, there are others who have less than us who are even more hospitable. I have certainly experienced great hospitality in neighborhoods, which by most measures are quite poor. It is important to have enough in this world to get by: having enough to eat and a place to live are essential needs and rights of every person. Going without those things makes it very difficult, perhaps impossible, for people to focus, to be confident or hopeful, or to find ways forward. Yet enough doesn’t mean having everything, certainly not everything that we might want.  It is only when people insist on justice, love, and hospitality that anyone can live a good life. “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed.”

Knowing the love of God is the source of happiness and it is the source of generosity and hospitality. Our Gospel lesson today is the first part of Jesus prayer for his disciples at the Last Supper in the Gospel of John. If we think about this for a minute, the setting is both at the time of Jesus’ greatest model of hospitality where he washed the feet of his disciples and at the moment when he knew that he was about to be crucified and lose everything, even his life. Jesus says this to the Father, “But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.” Jesus joy is his love for his people.

He says, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the Evil One. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Jesus sent his disciples into the world and he sends us into the world to have a good life. But not a good life as parts of the world would have it, not what the commercials and most of the shows on TV portray as the good life, not what the neighbors or friends at school or people living in the fanciest neighborhoods or biggest houses might put forward as the requirements of “the Good Life.”

My mother, Bernice Kadel

Today is Mother’s Day. The day in which we remember and honor women who nurture children. We have all had mothers. Even I have a mother. She’s been my mother for three-quarters of her life. Mothers and our relationships with them are as varied as all the people in the world. It’s hard to generalize—mothers are mothers in the real world and they are real people. And some take on the duties of being a mom for children they did not bear, sometimes as stepmother, or adoptive, or the person who is just there for kids.

Mother’s Day is difficult for a number of people because it calls to mind the grief of losing a child or not being able to have a child. Being a mother is definitely a real-world thing and that is the thing. In the real world it’s a risk and an investment of self to be a mother; we don’t know how it will come out, either in terms of who the child will become or what the mother will ultimately be able to do and give for the child. Each mother is different, but being a mother is a very specific choice for life. That is an awesome and scary journey to embark upon. Ultimately motherhood is the model and example of hospitality, the good life to which God has called us. Mary was Jesus’ mother—a humble woman in difficult circumstances, yet filled with the joy of God, providing a good life for the savior of the world. She made room for him within her and in that gave us all hope. That’s what mothers are for, to bring their children into good life and in that bring hope into this world.

The good life is the life of joy and delight, our joy and God’s joy. And the surest sign of that joy is that we have the confidence to be hospitable and generous, just as Jesus is to us. Thus we may be like the blessed ones in our psalm:

They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.

Sisters and brothers, continue to live the Good Life in God.