Memorial for Alice Mary Roggenkamp



Sermon preached at the memorial mass of Alice Mary Roggenkamp. February 22nd, 2015

Alice Mary Roggenkamp liked to hold on to things.

It wasn’t because she had an unhappy or an impoverished childhood, because she didn’t. Alice Mary was raised by loving parents on the upper east side of Manhattan. Her childhood was a happy one growing up around her father’s confectionary shop, and although she was an only child, she had friends and family and pets and much joy. Alice Mary held onto things because it was a part of who she was. As a woman who spent her life working as a librarian, perhaps it was her stock-in-trade, or perhaps Alice just valued things differently than we do.

For so many of us, life has a way of taking from us the things we fight so hard to hold on to. Our vocations, our possessions, our independence, even our loved ones; life has a way of stripping these things from us as we grow older. So it was with Alice Mary as well.

After losing most members of her family, retiring from her career, having to let go of her possessions and her independence, Alice Mary could seem to most of us, as a person that lost everything, but she wasn’t. The thing that Alice Mary treasured the most, then thing that gave her life the greatest joy and meaning, was the one thing that she never had to let go of; it was the thing she held onto until the end: her faith.

You see, this service that we are having here today; many of the details of this service were planned by Alice Mary herself. She was a woman who had lots of opinions, particularly about her faith, which was most important to her, so this service wouldn’t be just left to chance. As a woman who spent so much of her life working in and around the Episcopal Church, she naturally thought that her funeral should be presided over by a bishop…and a priest…and a deacon…and a monk.


Sadly, we were unable to fulfill some of those requests. But I am happy to say that we were able to include all of the music that Alice requested:


Alice wanted “I sing a song of the saints of god”, a song which for many conjures up images of Sunday School (which of course Alice Mary taught), but for her the last verse was important:


They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still, the world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’s will. You can meet them at school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.


Alice Mary meant to be a saint. She dedicated her life to cultivating holiness in herself and in others. She loved to sing about her faith, so she asked to have the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” sung because it begins with the line:


Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God almighty, early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.


Alice Mary’s song of faith did rise to God. Continually. And Alice Mary’s faith was a very traditional one. She was a member of the Guild of All Souls, an organization centered on saying requiem masses and keeping departed loved ones in prayer, which is why the color of our vestments today is the traditional black for requiem masses. Alice Mary was also associated with a number of monastic communities, specifically, the Sisters of the Holy Nativity, which is why we will be singing “Silent Night” in a few moments, and the Order of the Holy Cross, which is why we will be singing “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus, going on before.” Despite what some people often think about this song, it has nothing to do with going out into the world and fighting non-Christians. It is about fighting the spiritual fight against evil, which we are all called by our baptism to fight. It is about treading where the saints have trod; it is about knowing that we are a part of the church, over which the gates of hell cannot prevail. That was Alice Mary’s faith. She was absolutely a soldier in God’s army. She always had the cross of Jesus before her.

I was warned, by more than one person when I arrived at Ascension, that Alice Mary liked for the entire Eucharistic prayer to be said for her when you visited her. She didn’t just want a quick communion service. She wanted it all. As a member of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, communion was very important to Alice Mary. For her it was truly the body and blood of Jesus and it meant the world to her. Most of you know that just a few days ago on Ash Wednesday, Ruth and I went to visit Alice Mary, to impose the ashes on her and to giver her communion. She received the ashes, she prayed the Our Father with us, she received absolution and communion, and then a short while after we left, she passed away quietly in her sleep. Alice Mary had to let go of a lot of things in her life, but the one thing she held onto until the end, the thing she never had to let go of, was the thing that was most important to her: her faith. The one hymn that Alice Mary didn’t request, but that I included was the one we just sang: Faith of our Fathers. “Faith of our Fathers, Holy Faith, we will be true to thee till death.”

Alice Mary was true to her faith until death. So at the end of a life lived in faith and devotion, what can one say? In the commendation we say the words that “All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” The last request that Alice Mary had was that we include Handel’s Halleluia Chorus in her service, so our postlude will be just that. Alice Mary had to let go of a lot in this life, but in the end she held onto the thing that mattered the most. To that what more can be said than Halleluia.

What you do matters: Sermon for February 1st, 2015


Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

February 1st, 2015

Given before the Annual Meeting of The Church of The Ascension


Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1:21-28


“…for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge.”


So says Saint Paul in his epistle to the church in Corinth, which we heard this morning. We know, he says, that there is really only one God; one God that created everything, and for whom we live. And we know that there is really only one lord, Jesus Christ, through whom we are given a new life, but he goes on to warn them, not everyone knows this. Not everyone has the knowledge of God as the creator of the universe; not everyone has the sense of a divine being that is active in their lives; not everyone has a knowledge of Jesus Christ and what he actually taught and did; even fewer know about his Resurrection and the promise of forgiveness and new life that that gives us.


So because not everyone has this knowledge, and because you do, what you do matters. What you do matters, because the people who know less or are perhaps weaker in the faith are watching you. They are watching you to see if this so called knowledge that you possess actually makes a difference in your lives. Does this faith which you profess have any power to it? Can it change you? Can it change others? Are you more generous? Are you more caring? Do you live your life as if you actually had a real hope for the future? Do you have a joy in your life that others can see and feel? Does this Christ exert some power over your life or are you just like everyone else?


Now the issue that Paul is talking about in his letter this morning, that of eating food sacrificed before idols, that specific issue I won’t go into detail on this morning. It is a better discussion for a bible study than it is for a Sunday Sermon and at the end of the day the issue being discussed really has more to do with the Christians living in Corinth at that time than it does for us. But the principle that Paul upholds here IS a very important one for us. And that principle is this: that we Christians have the obligation to live out our faith in such a way that builds the members of Christ’s body up and not that pushes them down. We who claim to know something about God should be ruled first and foremost by our knowledge of his love for his people and not by our own inflated conceit. We should be always mindful of those who are weak in the faith or who may have no faith at all, and we should make sure that those people can see in us living examples of the power of Christ.


We are called here in this little outpost of God’s kingdom to be a place where God’s transformative power is on full display. We are called to be a place where people who are weaker in the faith are strengthened by the witness they see in the lives of those who are stronger. We are called to be a community that doesn’t just know things about God, but who uses what they know to transform their own lives and the lives of others around them. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up, and as important as knowledge is, it is love that actually builds the church.


There are plenty of people who supposedly know things about God and you wonder what difference it makes. There are plenty of people who profess Christianity and exhibit none of its virtues. There are plenty of people who are comfortable knowing Christ, but don’t actually want to be changed by him.


When Jesus entered the synagogue in Capernaeum, people were amazed at how he taught and at how he seemed to understand the mind of God. It wasn’t just correct knowledge, but it was the power and the authority that he had that astounded them. And still, one person from the congregation called out to him and said: “What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth? I know what you want, you want to change us. You have come here to change us, to destroy us. I know who you are. You are the Holy One of God.” The man wasn’t wrong. He knew who Jesus was. He had the correct knowledge, but he didn’t want to be changed by him. Not everyone who professes Christ actually wants to be changed by him. There is an old saying that some people may be singing “standing on the promises” while they are really only sitting on the premises. This man was one of those. And what does Jesus do? Does he kick the man out? Does he expel him from the community? No. Jesus casts out the demon and not the man. Jesus shows that he has the power to change someone who doesn’t even want to be changed and the people are amazed.


There are always gonna be people among us who may profess to know who Christ is, but don’t really want to be changed by him. Its ok. Christ has love for them to, and he has proven that he can be a powerful influence in their lives, even when they are resistant to it. But for the rest of us, for those of us who know Christ and who want to be changed by him, we are called to show the world just how powerful he truly is. We are called to display the wonderful knowledge we have of God through the love that is in our hearts and the grace that is in our lives. We are called to use that love to build up the people of Christ wherever they are, and at whatever stage they are at.


This little corner here at the intersection of North Village Avenue and Quealy place, this is a corner of God’s kingdom. It is an outpost that belongs to him, and not to us. We are merely the caretakers for a time. Hopefully what we do while we are here, the actions we take, how we live and what others see in us will all be things that build up the church of God, that will cause people to be stronger in the faith, and help people not only to know who Christ is, but encourage them to let his power truly work in their lives.