Monday, September 14, 2009

Welcome to fall!

Well, I certainly didn't intend to just drop the blog for the entire summer, but that's obviously what happened! Not only did I relax and read a lot, we traveled and in spite of the heat and drought had a wonderful summer. We're enduring recovery of my hero's recent foot surgery and he's not having the easiest time of it -- but it will be over in the not too distant future. Here below is the Rally Day sermon for our mission in the 'burb. Time to step up to the plate and hit some home runs out of the ball park. Hey, it is September, and the playoffs are close, football is taking over the airwaves! (Patricia, mentioned in the sermon, is our wonderful Director of Congregational Development.)

A little over a week ago, I went to the installation of Morgan Allen as the new rector of Church of the Good Shepherd. It was a beautiful service with Bishop Andy Doyle as celebrant. My dear friend, Dr. Roger Paynter of First Baptist was the preacher. Roger spoke to Morgan, and to all of us who are ministers, that our job is not simply to be pastors, but to also be prophets. Now many people believe that word “prophet” means someone who sees into the future, like a fortune-teller. That’s not the Biblical definition. What the prophets in the Bible, and prophets today do, is speak the truth in love. It is a job that isn't as easy as being a pastor -- someone who cares for and shepherds the congregation. Rather, Roger was telling us that it is important to speak out the truth of what we see in our congregations, and in the world. To not only love and care for our people, but also to challenge our people to grow in their love of the Lord – to help our members become stronger, more spirit-filled Christians, rejoicing in doing the work of God.
In our Old Testament reading for today, we hear words of prophecy. Wisdom cries out to the people, “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” The writer of Proverbs is telling the people that it is time to wake up and pay attention, that it is way past time for the people to turn from being caught up in the world, and time to focus on the truth to be gleaned from immersing themselves in holiness.
Peter was the “rock” upon whom Jesus built his church – the #1 disciple, right? And yet, in today’s Gospel, Jesus has no hesitation in saying to him, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." Jesus is prophesying, telling the truth to his premiere disciple, calling Peter to face his lack of understanding, to see how his view of life was caught up in the mundane, the worldly, rather than striving to see with a spiritual, God-focused heart.
We have a few people here at St. Paul’s who are obviously in love with God and his church. They actively embrace whatever opportunity is offered to learn more about God, and they join in study and conversation. They devote energy to making this community a family. They have never stopped seeking a deeper relationship with God.
And there are those here who have yet to hear the intensity and recognize the importance of God’s call. There are some of us who may see themselves in the words of this poem by Wilbur Rees:
I would like to buy three dollars worth of God, please.
I would like to buy just a little of the Lord.
Not enough to explode my soul and disturb my sleep.
Not enough to take control of my life.
I want just enough to equal a cup of warm milk.
Just enough to ease some of the pain from my guilt.

I would like to buy three dollars worth of God, please.
I would like to find a love that is pocket-sized.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man, or pick beets with a migrant. Not enough to change my heart.
I can only stand just enough to take to church when I have time.
Just enough to equal a snooze in the sunshine.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want the warmth of the womb, but not a new birth.

I would like to purchase a pound of the eternal in a paper sack.
If it doesn’t work, I would like to get my money back.
I would like to buy three dollars worth of God, please.
I would like to hide some for a rainy day.
Not enough for people to see a change in me.
Not enough to impose any responsibility.
Just enough to make folks think I am ok.
Could I just get three dollars worth of God, please?”

I speak frequently of the Holy Spirit setting hearts on fire – the transforming power that comes from being in love with God. Have you ever personally experienced it? Perhaps the flame burns brightly in your heart. Or has the flame now become a barely smoldering coal, or even gone cold? If you take a coal from the fire and set it on the edge of the hearth, the flame quickly dies down and the coal quits burning. Yet the coals in the midst of the fire will continue to burn brightly, because they feed each other. It is that same experience in the church. Yes, corporate worship is important, this altar is where we come to be fed, both spiritually and physically, it is where we praise and worship our Lord. But also important is our time together in study and group prayer, in sharing our lives, in getting to know one another intimately, becoming true family. Our Lord is calling us to build a close-knit community here, one that spends quality time together, interacting with one another as well as worshipping together. A community that rejoices in working together to bring hope to the world around us.
In the next few weeks, we are going to offer and encourage, challenge and inspire each and every one of us, of all ages, to come together and build up the fire of the Holy Spirit in this place. I have mentioned our audio Bible challenge over the past couple of weeks. We will begin listening to the New Testament next Sunday, the 20th, when every member will be given their free CD of the New Testament. In addition, Patricia and I have spent many hours praying for guidance for ways to bring us closer to one another and to God, to hear God’s vision for St. Paul’s. Patricia, please come up here and tell the people about some ideas we’ve had that we believe God is calling us to do.
(Patricia’s time, in which she spoke beautifully of storytelling, teaching/mentoring, outreach, pastoral care, and a social dinner gathering that the Episcopal Church calls Foyers. These will be continuing areas of study and activity. She also explained again our wonderful new program called "Faith Comes by Hearing" in which we all have CDs to listen to the New Testament, 28 minutes a day for 40 days. We will finish the NT just in time for Advent. We also welcomed the input of all members into a discernment process for other things we could do together to build the church.)

Closing Prayer:
Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, Bless us we pray. Send down upon this place the fire of your Holy Spirit. Break open our hearts, Lord; that we may be filled with your love. Hold us in your hand, Lord, and blow upon us the wind of your Spirit, that the light of your love will become a raging fire that will set this community ablaze. In the name of your Son Jesus we pray, Amen.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Playing for Change

Dear Ones, This is an amazing amalgam of musicians, working together in unity and love. Listen to the newest song, then go to to read about their philosophy, how they do what they do, and hear more music!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easter Reflections

What was Holy Week and Easter Day like for you? For me, it was very busy, and absolutely wonderful. On Palm Sunday we had a palm procession that began outside near the bell tower and we sang as we walked into the church. Our friend Alyssa Stevens and her mom, Laurie, came to play their violins, and along with Ron's organ playing made beautiful music for us all. 
On Maundy Thursday, St. Paul's had its first Seder dinner, followed by our traditional service with foot washing. What an amazing time we all had together. It enriched us, and the Seder was meaningful: we learned a great deal about our history, and it was lots of fun, too. 
A small group gathered on Good Friday evening to walk the Stations of the Cross. We used a wonderful book, "The Way of Sorrows" by Katerina K. Whitley, and we each came away with a feeling of having meditated deeply on Christ's journey to the cross.
On Holy Saturday, we gathered outside the church in the dark and lit a fire. With prayers, we lit the Paschal candle from the fire, lit smaller candles from the large one, and processed into the darkened church chanting, "The light of Christ, Thanks be to God." We read parts of our history from the Old Testament, the altar candles were lit and the lights came up as we proclaimed that Christ is risen! As in the Early Church, we proceeded with an adult baptism, my first time to celebrate that sacrament, then shared Eucharist together. It was a most holy night.
Easter Day brought a small group for a lay-led "Sunrise" service, followed by a crowd for the main Eucharist at 10:30 -- we had 14 visitors!  Alyssa again brought beautiful music with her exquisite playing of the violin, which greatly enhanced the service. And, of course, we topped off the day with an Easter egg hunt for the children. 
I am still glowing with all the memories. I pray your Easter experience will continue to bless you in every way.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Jesus Cleans House

I was the preacher at a local retirement home yesterday afternoon. They asked for a longer sermon than I usually preach, but it was well received and I thought I'd share it with you. Hope you like it! (Some historical and theological information taken directly from, and websites.)

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
I Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, *O LORD, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
This story of Jesus and his anger, yes anger and physically acting on that anger, sounds like a great deal of chaos in a holy place, doesn't it? We will look at what was going on and why Jesus did what he did.
But first, let's start out with our Old Testament reading of the Ten Commandments. As those of us who study the Bible know, these rules we call the Ten Commandments were far from being the only laws of the Hebrew people, but they are the first we come to in the Bible, and the ones we Christians focus on.
From a 21st century perspective, we can look at these commandments in four groups. The first three deal with the worship of Yahweh as the only invisible, holy God who makes a claim on the Israelites as their Savior. The next two, on the Sabbath and the honoring of parents, focus on economic and family aspects of life. Rest is necessary for productive labor and the family is the fundamental unit of human society. The next three have to do with the life of the family or individual in the larger community. They deal with such basic realities of human society as the sanctity of life, of marriage and sexuality, and the respect for property as an extension of persons. The last two are of a social nature speaking of truth in the law courts and honoring the rights of others.
It is strange how we view laws as things that hinder our happiness rather than as something designed to maximize it. Any parent, worth their salt, can tell you that they don't make up rules just for kicks, just to be arbitrary. They make up rules to keep their children safe and to enhance the peace and harmony of home and family life. The Law, the Ten Commandments are "cords of love," fences if you will, demarcating healthy boundaries. When we truly follow these rules with our hearts interpreting them fully, our lives engender a freedom which allows us to live in peace and harmony with God and one another.
A disclaimer here, I don't usually spend much time in my sermons teaching history, but I found the following information so interesting, I want to share it with you.
By the time of Jesus, the temple had been around for a very long time. It had existed in various forms: the first construction by Solomon, then its destruction during the Babylonian wars and its re-construction after the Hebrew people returned from exile. During Jesus' lifetime, King Herod had made dramatic improvements, even over and above the splendor of the original plan. And over those millennia many laws had been set up about how the people were to act and be when in the temple, where they could and could not go within the temple precincts.
Sacrifice of animals was an aspect of almost all religions in the ancient world, and the worship of the Hebrew people was no different. Gifts of the best lamb or kid of the flock, and a portion of the best produce of the fields or vineyards was what they gave to God. We must not forget that only a portion of that gift to the temple was burned on the altar. The remainder was used for food for the priests and their families. It was a way of supporting those who devoted their lives to interceding with God for the people.
Before there was a temple, from the Book of Exodus, we read, "When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his soul to the Lord when you number them…half a shekel…the rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less…And you shall take the atonement money from the people of Israel and shall appoint it for the service of the Tent of Meeting; that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the Lord, so as to make atonement for your souls." This tax was to cover the expenses of the Levites, the priests who devoted their time caring for the tent of meeting, worship and sacrifices, to provide a livelihood for them and their families.
From then on, every Hebrew male over the age of twenty was expected to make an obligatory donation of a half shekel for the atonement, for the sacrifices. At the time of the Temple's construction, this modest sum allowed all Jews, of all economic levels, to participate in the building of the Temple. After the construction was completed, they continued to collect the tax for the purpose of purchasing the public sacrifices and other needs of the Temple. The collection began every year on the first day of the month of Adar, which was probably in late January, and it ended on the first day of the month of Nissan, in the spring.
Now most of the money to be found in Jerusalem was Roman coinage, which had the head of the emperor stamped on it. The temple authorities, in obeying God's word concerning idols from the Ten Commandments, would not accept any coinage which had the image of a person on it, because they considered it blasphemous. And so, bankers set up their stalls outside the temple, to exchange the coinage of Rome for silver shekels and half-shekels from Tyre, which had no such images.
It was most likely a shekel of Tyre that Jesus and Peter used to pay the Temple head tax (a half shekel each): From Matthew 17, you may remember the story of the coin in the fish's mouth, when Jesus tells Peter: "Go thou to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money. That take, and give unto them for me and thee" Moreover, Tyrian silver coins probably comprised the thirty pieces of silver infamous for the payment to Judas Iscariot for Jesus' betrayal.
However over time, over hundreds of years, these money changers moved from being outside the temple, to doing their work on the stairs at the entrance, to eventually moving into the outer courts of the temple. The people who were selling animals for sacrifice had done the same thing. It must have been total chaos in that place. Yet somehow, this movement happened so slowly that the priests of the temple paid no attention to the fact that commerce was happening in this holy place devoted to worship. And not only was that commerce not even-handed, it had become usurious, the marketplace had become a place of greed.
Jesus was incensed - and rightly so! He, who loved his Father above all, could not abide what was happening in his Father's house. So he took off his belt and wreaked havoc upon those who had denigrated the holy places. He cleaned house. He knew the laws of the temple, as well as the laws His father had given the people, and he believed they should be followed.
Isn't this what Jesus did throughout his ministry? Although this is the only time we see him angry and physically demonstrative, his entire ministry, all the words he said, were calling people to clean the houses of their minds, and see the law in the way God meant for us to see it. He said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill." He wanted us to realize that the laws were meant to be read in the recesses of our hearts and souls, which brings joy and peace, not followed blindly as rules and strictures, which have no life in them.
This marketplace within the temple, had become a place of greed: does it not sound a lot like our world today? It appears that our nation has been consumed with commerce and greed. Certainly our country as a whole, and many who have been in control of our major monetary institutions, have been consumed by it. And it has impacted the entire nation. Our economy has been turned upside down, just like the moneychangers tables were upset by Jesus.
Now I don't want to give anyone the wrong impression. I do not believe that God has in any way impacted the national and world economy. What I do believe is that greed, and conspicuous consumption among our society at large has brought down our house of cards. Many of us built our lives on a foundation of sand rather than rock, and lived our lives as though our debts would never have to be paid. There are also many of us who have lived within our means, and yet now find ourselves caught in these bad times by unexpected illness, or from placing our savings into the hands of people we trusted who were untrustworthy, or the failure of financial institutions we depended upon.
Since most of us are on fixed incomes, living on our savings, pension plans, and investments, there may be some here who have succumbed to fear and worry. We have all seen our investments shrink in value, and it's hard when we don't feel we have control over what's happening. So what do we do in this time of cleansing, this season of Lent which is happening in a time of change? What can we do to brighten our days and calm our worries?
I would suggest to you that we look to the words of Jesus, and change our hearts. Look to the words of our Psalm for today, remember that God loves us, and that the law as Jesus fulfilled it is a way out of fear and a portal into joy and peace.
Rather than dwelling on what may go wrong, worrying over what may happen in the future, look around you and see where you might spread Christ's love. Stepping out of the focus on our own concerns and looking for ways to increase the joy of others, takes us into a place where Christ's light shines forth into the world, and his peace will begin to dwell within us.
Is there someone who tends to eat alone, or spend little time in company with others? Even if you've tried before, invite them again to join you and your friends. I've been told that this is a mighty friendly place, and that's certainly what I've experienced. Yet there is always more. How frequently do you personally go down the hall to the nursing wing, without a specific destination in mind? Might there be people down there who don't get visitors? Someone who is so frail that they cannot speak or perhaps even open their eyes? Simply going into the room and holding their hand for a moment, whether they can respond or not, is a way of spreading God's love into the world. A quick smile and "how are you?" can make someone's day.
In whatever way we can, Jesus calls us to embody God's love. When we shine that love out into the world, it is reflected back into our lives, tenfold. As the Psalmist said, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork." How can we, as people of God, do any less? Amen.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My Brother's Challenge

A few weeks ago as my older brother and I were finishing a holiday lunch together, he took a corner of the restaurant bill and wrote something on it. He then handed it to me and said, "Write me a sermon on that." I looked down and the scribbled words were "2 Kings 6:29." Well, a little sister, no matter how old, cannot resist a gauntlet when it is thrown to the ground! And, at that moment, I had no idea what the verse was about, so that made it easier to say that I would get back to him with it.
When I got home and opened my Bible, these were the words: "So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, 'Give up your son and we will eat him.' But she has hidden her son." Needless to say, this is a lesson in NOT pulling a single verse out of context! But I had to send him something. Here is what happened in my mind and prayers:
In the Episcopal tradition, we read lessons from the Old Testament, the Psalms the letters (epistles) from the New Testament, and a Gospel reading each day. It is very rare than in any of these readings there would be one sentence pulled out from a story. Rather, entire passages are read in context so that the people have a fuller understanding of the circumstances of the story and the meaning of the passage.
That said, I believe it is important to look at this entire story and to at least get a feel for what surrounded this woman's story of cannibalizing her own child. It was a time of siege in the capitol city of Samaria, and people were starving. We have all heard stories of cannibals, usually in the early exploration days of South America and deepest Africa. In Bible days, and even up into the 16th century, pagan cultures sacrificed their children to the gods.
We must recall as a part of this tory, the place of children in the society of the time. Women generally gave birth on an almost annual basis from the age of 13 or 14 until they died, or reached the age of menopause. Babies were sold to those who were infertile, or if the family was destitute and couldn't find anyone to take the child, infants were "exposed to the elements" -- left outside to die, when the family knew they couldn't care for the child. However, it must be stated that the Hebrew national has always treasured its children, and considered it a "mitzvah" -- a blessed requirement -- to bear children and raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It may be that this small aside in the story was put there to explain how dire the circumstances were in the city during the siege.
The Donner Party is a 19th century example of survival by cannibalism, and in our own lifetime is the South American soccer team whose plan crashed in the Andes. In these cases, they ate the flesh of their friends who had died. A different, and perhaps less gruesome story than this one we find in 2 Kings.
Although we would like to believe that every mother adores and would die for her children, this is a high standard that our particular society has developed from our knowledge of the teachings of Jesus. Our most fundamental and strongest instinct is for survival: after survival comes preservation of the species, which means taking care of our offspring.
When everyone around us is dying, and our children are withering away before our eyes, it is hard to believe that God will provide. This woman may have dearly loved her baby but realized that if she died, her baby most assuredly would also die. If she herself survived, she could have other children. We can't know what torment this woman was in or how her mind was working.
We can only look at the entire story and see that God was working it. Had she only kept her faith for a few more days, both mother and baby might have survived. Surely in times of war and famine, not all do survive. It is our faith and hope that as we live through horrors such as these, that a remnant will survive to carry on our beliefs. God is always present, and in that knowledge we can only say that this is a lesson about living in hope. No matter how dire the circumstances, as people of God we continue to strive to live in faith and hope, follow the teachings of Christ.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Blessed New Year

Yes, the economy is in a major world of hurt, and many people are worried. Are you? I think we all tend to be a bit anxious, wondering what's going to happen. But do we ever know what's going to happen tomorrow, or even an hour from now? 

Truth lives in the knowledge that each moment is new, not just this beginning New Year. When we are aware of that, we can celebrate each moment, just like many of us celebrated the birth of 2009 at the stroke of midnight last night. Each moment we are here is a gift, and a glorious one at that! So, let go of the anxiety over what might happen in the future, and give thanks for the gift of the present. Look with hope and joy and great thanksgiving for the dawn of the new day. May each of you experience many blessings in this New Year!