thoughts from our Priest-in-Charge:
26 October 2020
My dear people,
Yesterday, when talking about our opening hymn (#605 in The Hymnal 1982), I quoted Malachi instead of Micah 6:8 as the source of the text: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
I also made a reference to a quotation from Bryan Stevenson. Bryan Stevenson is an American lawyer, social justice activist, founder/executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and a law professor at New York University School of Law. I recently received the gift of his book – which I suggest we all read – Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.
The quotation of his, from that book, which I intended to share is this: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
I believe that that sentence sums up what the Lord was trying to say in yesterday’s Gospel from Matthew 22.
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Jesus’ implication is that if we truly love God (and if we truly believe that we are loved by God) then we can do nothing other than love our neighbors.
I suggested that the initial problem of loving our neighbors is believing that we ourselves are genuinely, truly and unconditionally loved by God! We often think that our relationship with God is “contractual.” That means, that when we fall short on our end of the bargain, there are consequences which look and sound like punishment. When, in fact, disappointing our loving parent is punishment enough: and self-inflicted!
I firmly believe, that our relationship with God is like that between a loving parent and an un-lovable, or difficult, or even addicted child. Despite the child’s inability to ‘live up’ to any kind of expectational contract with the parent, despite disappointment, the good parent’s love for that child remains, and may even grow.
In the Parable we refer to as the “Prodigal Son,” the son who stayed home, and did all that his father asked and obeyed all the rules, thought that he was in a “contractual relationship” with his father. He thought that after all his good work and flawless behavior, his father owed him something, some kind of reward or a ticket to heaven! He did NOT SEE his father’s love as an undeserved gift but as a well-earned payment he deserved. Consequently, he thought his prodigal brother was owed nothing by their father; and he became angry and indignant when his father showered his returned brother with the same undeserved and unconditional love they had both received throughout their lives. If you ask me, in the end, the son who stayed home required greater effort to love than his profligate brother! The father proved that his love was not “contractual” but a love which I describe as “crazy,” because it seems so contrary to our small self-righteous and hypocritical selves! Both boys got what they needed from their father: life, love and forgiveness. Then, the father gave them to each other!
I spoke too, of the best personal example I ever had of this kind of love when I shared with you a treasured saying from my own father, who assured me that: “There is no kind of trouble you can get into that is so bad that home is not the first place you ought to come.” That’s the parental, crazy type of love which is way larger than any contract, and which none of us deserves, but which we believe, teach and confess God showers on us and all of creation, no matter how disappointing our behaviors may have been.
The problem, you see, of loving our neighbor is really only a problem of BELIEVING THAT WE ARE, in fact, TRULY, UNCONDITIONALLY, AND ETERNALLY LOVED BY GOD. When we get around to believing that one, I firmly believe that the business of “loving our neighbors as ourselves” will come lots easier and way more naturally to us.
We know – scientifically – that humans cannot live and survive without love. How dare we not share with others the life-love we have so freely received in such full measure from our God whom we know to be “crazy” in love with us?
The greatest commandment? Believe that you are loved by God. Share that love. Period.
Thoughts from our Priest-in-Charge:
20 October 2020
My dear people,
Earlier today I prepared a message “For the Flock” which continued my on-going thoughts about Sunday’s Gospel, from Matthew, about “rendering unto the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” Later this afternoon, Ray Moran called to ask me to write a letter to you as a part of our annual stewardship and financial planning campaign. Coincidence?!
I’m always delighted to think with you about our beloved congregation and the work we do together as the Body of Christ. There is no secret that that Body of Christ faces the same challenges which are being met – around the world – in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic. But, it is NOT all BAD news!!!
We have learned some things since this crisis began. We have learned how to reach out electronically and how to gather via the rather ‘magical’ technology of ZOOM. Big thanks to the Diocese for that! Consequently our attendances have remained relatively strong. That has also allowed us to stay in touch (especially long-distance) in an even more immediate and far-reaching manner than ever before. I have also learned from more than one business person (including my clock repair man!) that “business is better than ever” and “up by 50%!” And although we KNOW that that is NOT the case for everyone, we rejoice for those who are so very fortunate despite the crisis.
I have also had a report from at least one other Episcopal congregation that giving has increased during this crisis; and I am not surprised.
I cannot know what everyone’smfinancial ‘situation’ is. And although I could not say that giving has increased at St. John’s, during the Covid crisis, I can say that giving at St. John’s has remained strong, circumstances notwithstanding. That’s called “Keeping On Keeping On!”
We have just spent a good deal of time discussing our confession that ALL that we have and are is God’s gift to us. So, it is a bit ridiculous to think of our support of the church as something we “give back to” or “share with” God. It is just as ‘iffy’ to understand our support of the institutional church as giving to God as if the way we spend all of our resources does not reflect our convictions about our loving and merciful Creator God. As Christian stewards – and those who accept God’s grace totally undeservingly yet in complete measure – maintaining our institutions (including the church) is, and always should be, an act of gratitude and responsibility. We are simply charged to be responsible with that which is NOT ours by right, but that which is ours by GRACE.
I do not need to explain to you what the maintenance of the household of faith involves. The Annual Report does that for you. But I do need to ask you to continue to surprise and encourage our operation in the way you always have : generously, gratefully, lovingly and happily.
We know St. John’s is unique and wonderful. And I know that a significant part of that specialness is your sincerity in supporting the operation of St. John’s’ for God’s sake and the world’s.
Bless you in your exercise (which involves stretching!) of your personal Christian stewardship.
October 20, 2020
My dear people,
I am continuing to think about our Gospel lesson and the parable from Matthew 22: 1-15, which we read last Sunday.
I’ve been thinking about common expressions about “time” and “energy.” We often speak of “wasting time” and “wasting energy.” We also speak idiomatically about “spending time” and “spending energy,” just as we “spend money.”
The discussion in Sunday’s parable was OSTENSIBLY about spending money. The Pharisees and the Herodians (who were, by all standards, good “religious” people) were trying to entrap Jesus with clever questions about how money should be spent.
Jesus, on the other hand responded with a question about to whom the money, imprinted with the emperor’s image, belonged. Knowing their hearts (which, psychologically speaking, were completely different from their religious ‘affect’), Jesus asked what they believed about possessions. Their reply indicates their lack of the truly religious belief that : “all that we have and are is God’s gift to us.” Their stated belief was that the coin with the emperor’s image belonged to the emperor. They, therefore, confessed that the emperor was indeed their god (which was precisely the point of putting his image on the coin in the first place).
On Sunday we talked about ourselves being created, “minted or printed” in the “image and likeness of God.” That’s a different confession from the one that says the image of the emperor minted on currency is in fact an image of a god; and that the emperor’s image indicates “ownership” of the wealth and resources of the empire (or world).
Jesus does not argue with the Pharisees and Herodians. He simply suggests that they live out what they believe by giving their denarius to him whose image they worship: the emperor! Jesus quite subtly makes the point that those who believe that they are made in the ‘image and likeness of God’ belong to God alone!
Jesus welcomes us to “SPEND” – and not to “waste” – the currency of our own selves as if we TRULY believe that we are made in the image and likeness of God; and that ALL that we have and are is God’s gracious gift to us. Those who know they are God’s possession intend to SPEND themselves and all they have, according to God’s own and holy will. That means EVERY cent which is in our power to control we treat as God’s gift for us to SPEND WISELY and effectively for God’s sake!
My fascination continues along the line of us Christian stewards proving what we believe by how we spend the currency of OUR OWN SELVES – the image-bearing “money of God” – in God’s needy and strife-torn world.
So, here’s the parable simply put, and yet again: Do you believe that you are MINTED, PRINTED, CREATED in the IMAGE AND LIKENESS OF GOD? Do you believe that ALL that you have and are is God’s gracious gift to you?
Then, the question is: Will you chose to SPEND wisely or foolishly waste that which God has so graciously given? Will you chose to RENDER UNTO GOD THE THINGS THAT ARE GOD’S, at all times, in all places and under all circumstances? Even now? By so doing, we make our confession of who our God is and render our time, our energy and our resources accordingly.
Bless you, one and all,
Please enjoy our recorded worship service for Sunday, October 18, 2020, 20th Sunday after Pentecost:
Good morning! Due to the upcoming holidays, St. John’s Thrift Shoppe hours will be different than the normal 2nd and 4th Saturdays in November and December.
We will be CLOSED Sat. 11/28 and Sat. 12/26
We will be OPEN:
Wed. 11/4 9am to 1pmSat. 11/14 9am to 1pm
Free Day will be Wed. 11/18 10am to 12noon & 5pm to 7pm
Sat. 12/12 9am to 1pmSat. 1219 9am to 1pm
Free Day will be Wed. 12/16 10am to 12 noon & 5pm to 7pm
Thoughts from our Priest-in-Charge:
October 14, 2020
My dear people,
I very much enjoyed Sunday’s Gospel text, from the beginning verses of Matthew chapter 22.
I am interested – for just a moment – to return to that passage which speaks of the one guest who accepted the invitation but attended the banquet without the proper attire.
As I said Sunday, I was grateful for the Holy Father’s explanation that wedding garments were freely provided by the host for his guests. I suppose the custom has been a bit reversed today: the bride, groom and wedding party wear special, celebratory and often ‘uniform’ clothing, to set them apart from the crowd. Surely, that was done in Jesus’ day too. But apparently, in those days, there was also the custom – perhaps much like wearing a yarmulke in synagogue – of providing matching outfits [the Pope said they were something like capes] freely provided by the host, for the guests as well. That ‘uniform’ indicated who was ‘provided for’ as opposed to those who were ‘providing.’ In a large gathering, I’m sure that was important and helpful for the waiters and servants to know whom to serve, care for, and honor first: the invited guests! Sunday I spoke about understanding forgiveness as a ‘covering.’ That reference comes from Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
There is another reference from the New Testament book of 1 Peter 4:8: which makes the same point: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
We remember from Sunday that: “. . . when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless.”
This, it seems to me, is the whole point of the parable. If we attend the “banquet” of God’s extraordinary creation and live in it as the PROVIDERS rather than the PROVIDED FOR, I suppose we ought to be asked to leave! That wedding garment, given to us at the door, serves two purposes. First, it is the freely-provided underserved, un-earned and un-paid-for covering for our sinfulness. Secondly, it becomes the garment of genuine gratitude and humility before God for that Divine grace which enables us to see all others in creation as our brothers and sisters and equal recipients with us of God’s undeserved and impossible-to-understand generosity, love and forgiveness.
The point is that just as the Collect suggested yesterday, our ‘good works’ proceed quite naturally from believing that God’s grace both precedes and follows us. So, when we accept and humbly wear the gift of God’s forgiveness, then we will live as God intended us to live and be ‘given to good works.’ That is simply a matter of the nature of those who accept and wear that wedding garment gladly. Sadly, those who refuse to accept that gift and refuse to live in that kind of joyful humility, will sacrifice their voice, and be left, as the Gospel says: “speechless.”
Here again is Sunday’s collect for your use throughout the week:
“Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
Bless you, one and all,
My dear people,
Here (below) is the information from Fran Hager’s family about the arrangements for her funeral.
Rest eternal grant her, O Lord. And let light perpetual shine upon her.
Family and Friends,
This is the YouTube link: https://youtu.be/gBzmfsya0I0 which will air Fran’s funeral service. The service will begin at 2:00pm(EST) on Thursday, October 15th.
If you are having problems with the link, you can go to stfrancismd.org and click on the Videos tab found at the top of the page or click on Virtual Worship. We recommend that you log on at least 15 minutes early to ensure that the link is working for you. If you are unable to watch during the actual time of the service, it will be available on-line for a later time for you to view.
Attached is the service bulletin which will be used for the service. At the end of the bulletin you will find Fran’s obituary.
After the service in the church, those in attendance will go outside to the Memorial Garden for the inurnment. Unfortunately, we are unable to livestream this, however; it will be recorded and a seperate link will be sent to you approximately 1 to 2 hours AFTER THE SERVICE. If you haven’t received the link by 6pm(EST), please let us know and we’ll make sure to resend.
Finally, as we don’t have everyone’s email addresses, please forward this information to anyone who would want to be a part of Fran’s home going service. Janet and I are both saddened that COVID-19 restrictions have made it impossible to have all of you who have been a part of Fran’s life in attendance with us. While your physical presence can’t be with us, we know that your spiritual presence will be surrounding us with your love from wherever you may be. Please join with us in the prayers found in the bulletin along the way. For those in attendance, there will be an opportunity to receive Holy Communion; for those watching from home, there will be an invitation extended to you by Fr. Kristofer to pray the Prayer for Spiritual Communion (Episcopal Prayer Book for the Armed Forces – 1988):
In union, O Lord, with your faithful people at every altar of your Church, where the Holy Eucharist is now being celebrated, I desire to offer you praise and thanksgiving. I remember your death, Lord Christ; I proclaim your resurrection; I await your coming in glory. And since I cannot receive you today in the Sacrament of your Body and Blood, I beseech you to come spiritually into my heart. Cleanse and strengthen me with your grace, Lord Jesus, and let me never be separated from you. May I live in you, and you in me, in this life and in the life to come. Amen.
Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received… but only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage. St. Francis of Assisi
Please enjoy our recorded worship service For October 11, 2020, nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost below:
Our recorded worship service for yesterday, Sunday, October 4, 2020 – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost may be viewed and enjoyed below:
THOUGHTS FROM OUR PRIEST-IN-CHARGE:
October 5, 2020
My dear people,
As a congregation which has expressed it’s desire to work as an ecumenical church, I share the following document with you, which comes from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, of which, as you know, I am an ordained member.
October 5, 2020
My dear people,
Sometimes it takes a while!
Yesterday, we tried to remember this hymn which, by the way, is in our 1982 Hymnal, #407 (thanks Kathleen for looking that up for us!).
The text is a translation by Howard C. Robbins of St. Francis’ prayer. Yesterday, you remember, was St. Francis Day in the church. This stunning text is the gorgeous work of a very poetic translator which speaks for itself. I remind you that in 1979, Pope John Paul II declared St. Francis the Patron Saint of Ecologists. In some ways, St. Francis of Assisi could be viewed as the original Earth Day advocate.Not only did he care for the poor and sick, but he preached multiple sermons on animals, and wanted all creatures on Earth, including humans, to be treated as equals under God. Some of his sermons included stories about birds, fish, and rabbits.
The extraordinarily beautiful music for this hymn was composed by Calvin Hampton, a colleague of James’ and a very well-known and highly-competent and creative church musician who was the organist and director of music at Calvary Episcopal Church (now Calvary-St. George’s) on Park Avenue South in New York City, back in the day when I was the parish musician at Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church on 22nd Street in Manhattan. Calvin was an early victim of another medical pandemic in the 1980’s known as AIDS.
I have asked for us to sing this hymn – as we are able – next Sunday.
Here’s the text for your contemplation before we gather next week for worship.
1 Most High, omnipotent, good Lord,
to thee be ceaseless praise outpoured,
and blessing without measure.
From thee alone all creatures came;
no one is worthy thee to name.
2 My Lord be praised by brother sun
who through the skies his course doth run,
and shines in brilliant splendor:
with brightness he doth fill the day,
and signifies thy boundless sway.
3 My Lord be praised by sister moon
and all the stars, that with her soon
will point the glittering heavens.
Let wind and air and cloud and calm
and weathers all, repeat the psalm.
4 By sister water be thou blessed,
most humble, useful, precious, chaste;
be praised by brother fire;
jocund is he, robust and bright,
and strong to lighten all the night.
5 By mother earth my Lord be praised;
governed by thee she hath upraised
what for our life is needful.
Sustained by thee, through every hour,
she bringeth forth fruit, herb, and flower.
6 My Lord be praised by those who prove
in free forgivingness their love,
nor shrink from tribulation.
Happy, who peaceably endure;
with thee, Lord, their reward is sure.
7 For death our sister, praised be,
from whom no one alive can free.
Woe to the unprepared!
But blest be they who do thy will
and follow thy commandments still.
8 Most High, omnipotent, good Lord,
to thee be ceaseless praise outpoured,
and blessing without measure.
Let creatures all give thanks to thee,
and serve in great humility.
Here is the link for yesterday’s worship service, September 27, 2020, 17th Sunday after Pentecost:
Below, you will find the link to yesterday’s worship service, September 20th, sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Additionally, you may view our Annual Meeting held immediately after the worship service yesterday, September 20, 2020:
Have a great week! You may read our Annual Report below:
St. John’s Episcopal Church
For May 1, 2019 – Apr. 30, 2020
STAFF AND ADMINISTRATION:
Directory of St. John’s Officers, Vestry and Staff
Rector’s Report, The Rev’d. Ronald R. Miller, Ph.D.
Senior Warden’s Report, Michael Nigro
Junior Wardens’ Report, Paul Ratcliffe
Director of Music Ministries, Kathleen Hayes
TABLE OF CONTENTS/MINISTRIES:
Officers, Vestry, Staff Info 2
Rector’s Report 3
Senior Warden’s Report & Elections Info 4
Junior Warden’s Report 4-5
Christian Education 5
Music Ministry 5
Altar Guild 6
Pastoral Care Report 6
Thrift Shoppe 6-7
St. Catherine’s Guild/Episcopal Church Women 7
Financial Reports: DOK and St. Catherine’s Guild 8
Daughters of the King (DOK) 8-9
Food Baskets/Thanksgiving & Christmas 9
Stewardship Report 9
Treasurer’s Report 9-10
Commissioning New Parish Leaders 10-11
2019-2020 St. John’s Officers, Vestry and Staff:
The Rev’d. Ronald Royce Miller, Ph.D. email@example.com 570-676-9671
Dir. of Music Ministries:
Kathleen Hayes firstname.lastname@example.org 917-723-4215
Sr. Warden: Michael Nigro (2021) (appointed annually) email@example.com 570-878-4944
Jr. Warden: Paul Ratcliffe (2021) (appointed annually) firstname.lastname@example.org 698-7102
Christine Crossley (2023) email@example.com 908-500-7312
Edith Otway (2021) firstname.lastname@example.org 570-689-2074
Pat Ware (2021) email@example.com 698-6976
James Griffin (2022) firstname.lastname@example.org 201-953-0598
Ray Evans (2022) email@example.com 646-240-7770
Ellaina Kennedy (2022) firstname.lastname@example.org 774-243-4033
Financial (Giving) Secretary: Sandy Toy email@example.com 570-689-2441
Treasurer: Cheryl Cooper firstname.lastname@example.org 503-7021
Parish Admin. Ass’t.:
Beverly Keleher email@example.com 689-9260
|The Rt. Rev’d. Kevin D. Nichols, Bishop |
The Rev’d. Ronald Royce Miller, Ph.D., Priest-in-Charge
Michael Nigro, Senior Warden
Paul Ratcliffe, Junior Warden
Kathleen Hayes, Director of Music Ministries
Jim and Joan Griffin, Zoom Hosts
Beverly Keleher, Parish Administrative Assistant
Physical Address: 564 Easton Turnpike, Hamlin, PA
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 118, Hamlin, PA 18427
Sunday Service: 8am and 10am–temporarily online: Virtual Zoom service @ 10am
Office Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 10am-3pm
Telephone: (570) 689-9260 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: saintjohnhamlin.org
Please follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn
The Mission of St. John’s Church
† Welcome All People to Embody the Love of Christ †
FROM OUR PRIEST-IN-CHARGE:
My very dear people,
There’s an old Bob Dylan song: “The Times They Are A-Changin.” Well, my friends, that’s nothing new! As Edith Wharton says, in a novel of hers, which I am currently reading, “. . .naught may abide but mutability.” And, as we appreciate the beauty of Brahms’ Requiem,
we recall the words from Section VI which come from the New Testament Book of Hebrews 13:14:
“Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt, sondern die zukünftige suchen wir.”
For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.
As strange as things may be in our world today, we also make other assertions that our God and God’s Church are eternal: that means neither mutable nor temporal. Now, a part of that mystery is how God constructs an eternal church with such temporal building materials as ourselves! We will surely never know the answer to that one; but we know that God does! So then, here we are, living proof of the Body of Christ alive today! That we are chosen to be the ‘living stones’ of the Church of Christ may remain a mystery. But, how we are to treat each other and to live in the world as that body is neither a mystery nor a secret. On the night in which he was betrayed by all of his closest and dearest friends, Jesus told them – and still tells us – to “love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus also admonishes us to “love our enemies as ourselves.”
Consequently, a world which is changing – and ever more rapidly so – is neither a threat to us nor a distraction from our stated goal and common purpose: “to welcome all people to embody the love of Christ.” And there is no way we can make that invitation sincere, without being loving ourselves!
Our mission continues to be fulfilled as we love each other in this community where we are constantly engaged in encouraging each other to an expanded sense of what the love God in Christ means to us and to the whole world.
My personal pastoral ministry – extended in the name of Christ and as the work of St. John’s – was expressed, during this past year, in the following particular ways: We have celebrated the baptisms of:
Kaius Alexander Charles and Kaeden David Charles on 27 October 2019
Maddyn Grace Constantine on 18 August 2019
Paige Irene Duggan, Reed Taylor Duggan and Sawyer Gene Dugan on
2 August 2020
St. John’s provided ministry at the deaths of: Martha Alice Wood (reinternment) 9 October 2019, Marjorie K. Senft, 18 October, 2019, Gertrude M. Balliet, 2 July 2020, Barbara Barrett, 7 July, 2020, Philip Elston 24 July 2020.
St. John’s also marked the deaths of two members: Eileen Eddins and Ronald Greatorex.
God bless you, each and every one, as we move forward in a changing world committed to accept and share the immutable and eternal love of God for us and for all creation.
+The Rev’d. Ronald R. Miller, Ph.D., Priest-in-Charge
MESSAGE FROM OUR SENIOR WARDEN:
I have been Sr. Warden at St. John’s for several years and during my tenure, I have been blessed to get to know all of you and develop lifelong friendships. The tenacity in which many of you volunteer to make St. John’s an example of great fellowship and devotion is a testament to your love for our church and all that it symbolizes. To be a part of that devotion has instilled in me a faith that I never knew possible. Waking up each Sunday morning and preparing for a liturgy is a joy. Following each service, I come away with a wealth of understanding and devotion to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Of course, the corona virus has forced us to find other venues in order to worship “together” and here a tremendous thank you to Joan and James Griffin for allowing all of us to enjoy our Sunday devotion via Zoom as our hosts.
I owe much of this devotion to the wonderful sermons of our beloved Fr. Ron Miller. His leadership, compassion, knowledge, and empathy are on display each and every Sunday. Leading our church is our Vestry, marking out a path each month for our church. They continue to bring our ideas and considerations to fruition. I need to mention our Jr. Warden, Paul Ratcliffe, from the smallest to the biggest job that needs to be done, Paul is always right there with concrete, well thought-out suggestions and his attitude is: “I’ll take care of it.” Amazes me. I’m continuously grateful for our treasurer, Cheryl Cooper. Her handling of all financial aspects of our church is flawless and her competence is without question. Pat Ware has managed our thrift shoppe with diligent awareness about the needs of our community and works at it tirelessly. Finally, my sincerest gratitude to Beverly, our parish administrator and sexton. At all times she works hard to keep St. John’s running smoothly, not to mention always making me look better. There are so many other family members that I could continue to compliment and shower with accolades–you know who you are and I thank you one and all.
In closing, the committee chairpersons will give their reports. I wish to convey my deepest respect and gratitude to each of you for your volunteerism and unselfish devotion to St John’s.
Sr. Warden of St. John’s Episcopal Church
Our delegates to the Diocesan Convention in October 2019 were Ray and Gina Evans while Paul and Karen Fels were our alternates. Due to the complete transition during the coronavirus we have kept this the same for 2020 for the purpose of Lay Leadership forms that needed to be submitted in May, 2020.
Our 2020 Diocesan Convention will be held virtually on Saturday, October 3rd from 8am-1pm. Our alternates, Karen and Paul Fels will be attending this virtual meeting.
JR. WARDEN’S REPORT 2019-2020
I am keeping my report short as I have submitted monthly reports to the Vestry listing everything that I have completed during the period of May 1, 2019 to September 20, 2020.
The following are the Goals that have been met:
- Ten extra folding chairs have been purchased and are stored up in the balcony.
- Security light on the parking lot side has been installed.
- Handrail from church to parish hall has been installed and painted with the help of Peter Eddins.
- Taller toilets have been purchased and installed in both bathrooms.
- Had contractor repair corner wall that had water damage.
- Arranged to have parish hall painted.
- Installed two lights in parish hall hallway with help from Peter Eddins.
- Fence has been completed and grass is being maintained. Three rose bushes have been planted and Pat Ware has been taking care of them.
GOALS FOR 2020:
- New carpeting for Church.
- Refinish Floors.
- Re-cladding for Church building.
- Repoint foundation walls.
- Fire alarm system.
- New entrance door (lower level).
- Repair water leak above window in office.
- Repair retaining wall rear of building.
Paul Ratcliffe, Jr. Warden
There was no Christian Education Committee activity in 2019; nor so far in 2020. None is planned for 2021.
MUSIC MINISTRY REPORT 2019-2020
In 2019, the vestry agreed to purchase a digital hymn player. Kathleen programmed the device to play the hymns for the duration of her time in Arizona. Cheryl Cooper also learned how to program the device and managed its use each week.
With the advent of Covid-19, the church moved to zoom services. Music has been provided remotely by Kathleen
and members of the parish community. Our hope is that worshippers are singing along in their homes.
ALTAR GUILD REPORT 2019-2020
This has not been a good year for the Altar Guild at St. John’s. We lost our beloved Eileen Eddins to cancer last November. She was a wonderful person and a valuable member of the Altar Guild. We miss her greatly.
Then this spring Melvina Black moved to South Carolina to be near her family. We are happy for her but miss her very much.
Then Covid struck and no more Communion for the foreseeable future.
When we do have church services again, we will get together and review our duties. We also need to find two new members to replace Eileen and Melvina. Please contact me if you would be willing to serve.
The only goal from last year that has not been completed is the purchase of new altar hangings to match the new vestments.
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY REPORT 2019-2020
This year, we coordinated with the Diocese to make use of their Zoom account to implement Zoom services during the Covid-19 crisis. We also helped the office upgrade its computer equipment and its internet service provider to deliver better quality service and experience. In the process, we arranged for a beacon to be installed in the main sanctuary, so services can be delivered via Zoom from this location. Finally, we set up a long-term solution for archiving and sharing recorded services on Vimeo. It has been a pleasure to help.
— Joan and Jim Griffin
PASTORAL CARE COMMITTEE 2019-2020
First, I would like to thank all the members of the Pastoral Care Committee for their support and continued participation in fulfilling the Mission of the Pastoral Care Committee during this time of distancing due to Covid-19.
It has been a difficult time for all but this Committee has really come through.
Our Mission Statement is to touch the lives of others and help to the best of our ability anyone requesting assistance. There are flyers in the church explaining this mission.
OUTREACH TO PARISHIONERS AND OTHERS:
Fr. Ron and several of our members have made visits to hospitals, rehab centers and homes of members and friends of St. John’s. When requested, we have added names to our Prayer List. This July we had a fund drive and collected over $1,000.00 to send to the Episcopal Diocese in support of the Ministry helping refugees arriving in the USA.
Prayer shawls and chemo caps are available and coordinated by Joanne Brogan.
PARISH NURSE PROGRAM:
This program is ongoing and Judith Kilpatrick, our parish nurse, takes blood pressure and will answer health related questions of concern.
This outreach is also a part of the PCC and Pat Ware has submitted a separate report.
INCREASING CHURCH ATTENDANCE:
PCC Members will continue to spread God’s love on a one-to-one basis as opportunities arise.
Hopefully, when we are able to get back into worshiping in church, a suggestion box will be put in the Narthex for the submission of comments and suggestions.
Diane Ratcliffe, Chairman
THRIFT SHOPPE REPORT
Another fun year with mice in the basement, spiders in the rafters, a disintegrating flooding ancient water heater – it’s never dull!
We continue our relationship with Little Creek – God Bless the guys for doing all the heavy lifting and stair climbing.
We had 3 students from local schools fulfill their community service requirements
with us. For the first time, we worked with Wallenpaupack High School’s courses
that prepare students to go out for their first job interviews by providing a selection of appropriate clothing.
We made a large contribution to the emergency clothing sent to the victims of the Liberty Restaurant fire.
To comply with PA requirements, we discontinued sales of comforters, quilts and other “stuffed” items.
Given the choice of paying an annual fee of almost $400 or giving such items away for free – we chose the latter.
Donations have been steady – we are grateful for every item – and we are slowly returning to normal abiding by all the new regulations necessitated by COVID19. Please, everyone, encourage people to bring donations during hours we are open – it saves a tremendous amount of work for us.
As everyone knows, life is ever-changing. We have had a dedicated crew of about 6 for several years and, as some move on to new challenges in the coming year, I would ask you all to consider giving a few hours of your time each month to the shoppe. We are only open for a total of 12 hours a month and no one needs to be there every time – 3 or 4 hours would be most appreciated. There’s no heavy work and you won’t be asked to handle money, just mainly sort and price items. We really do have a lot of fun:-)
PS: The white picket fence is beautiful and the Joseph’s Coat Roses are thriving – the 8 year wait was worth it. THANK YOU! – Pat Ware
ST. CATHERINE’S GUILD/ EPISCOPAL CHURCH WOMEN
The St. Catherine’s Guild ditty bag project: One delivery of 25 filled ditty bags was delivered in February and one more will be delivered before the end of 2020. This will complete my tenure. Thanks to Pete Eddins for several years of sewing the bags! –Judith Kilpatrick
FINANCIAL REPORTS – As of September 3, 2020:
Mary, the Lord’s Mother Chapter of St. John’s has $ 0 in the checking account. (Any monies do not belong to St. John’s but to the Order of the Daughters of the King National so they cannot be absorbed into the St John’s budget). The balance in the checking account of St Catherine’s Guild is $ 0 and account is closed. St. Cat’s savings is now $904.70. The St. Cat’s members will designate how it’s to be disbursed.
Respectfully submitted by Bobbie Hraba, Treasurer
DAUGHTER’S OF THE KING: Mary, the Lord’s Mother Chapter
The Order of the Daughters of the king is an order for the women who are communicants of the Episcopal Church, churches in communion with it, or churches in the historic episcopate but not in communion with it. Today our membership includes women in the Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran (ELCA), and Roman Catholic churches. The Order was founded in 1885 by Margaret J. Franklin at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in NYC. Our Anglican tradition includes episcopal oversight, recognizes that Holy Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation, acknowledges the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, the real presence of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, and worship according to The Book of Common Prayer. Members undertake a Rule of Life, incorporating the Rule of Prayer and the Rule of Service. By reaffirmation of the promises made at Baptism and Confirmation, a Daughter pledges herself to a life-long program of prayer, service, and evangelism dedicated to the spread of Christ’s Kingdom and the strengthening of the spiritual life of her parish.
The Mission of the Order: The mission of the Order is the extension of Christ’s Kingdom through Prayer, Service, and Evangelism.
Vision Statement: Empowered by the Holy Spirit, our vision as Daughters of the King is to know Jesus Christ, to make Him known to others, and to become reflections of God’s love throughout the world.
Order vs. Organization: The Order of the Daughters of the King is organized as a religious order, although we do not live in an enclosed community. Each Daughter takes a lifetime vow to live by the Rule of the Order. Our Rule of the Life requires a spiritual discipline of daily prayer, service, and evangelism. Because of our vow, we refer to ourselves as an order, not an organization. Our bylaws prohibit us from raising funds.
The Motto of the Order: For His Sake. . . I am but one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do. What I ought to do, by the grace of God I will do. Lord, what will you have me do?
At present we have 3 members in our chapter: Melvina Black, who has moved to Bluffton, SC to be near her family, Joanne Brogan, Bobbie Hraba, who are not moving, and Judi Kilpatrick, who, unfortunately for us but better for her, is moving closer to her family in the near future. So, very soon, we will have only two members. Melvina’s and Judi’s plans have not been finalized as to their membership in the Daughters. We had been meeting on the first Tuesday of each month at 9:30am in the Parish Hall. One of our disciplines is a Bible study which we have completed. We are now on a search of a new one although it has been difficult due to the Covid-19 restrictions.We also specifically pray for “Faithfulness in Service”; for members of the Order; for absent members; for healing; for our parish; for Pr. Ron; for our Bishop, Kevin Nichols; and for any other concerns the Lord puts on our minds. If you feel a calling or an interest please speak to any one of us to begin your discernment and/or study period.
Respectfully submitted by Bobbie Hraba, President
FOOD BASKETS AND CHRISTMAS GIFTS 2019-2020
At Thanksgiving there were six food baskets distributed and at Christmas there were seven food baskets and gifts for 23 children thanks to the generosity of the St. John’s family. Thanks always goes to the Otway’s for their help with the shopping, to Joanne Brogan for helping with last-minute wrapping, organizing and distribution.
Respectfully submitted, Bobbie Hraba
STEWARDSHIP REPORT 2020
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015
31 37 42 44 45 48
3 5 3 5 2 10
67146 79242 74056 79234 71800 67044
41.65 41.19 36.52 34.23 30.68 26.86
2020 has been a very trying year with the lockdowns and not being able to have any events to help with the ever-decreasing number of people pledging. Let us hope 2021 will be almost back to normal.
ANNUAL TREASURER’S REPORT
2020 Annual Meeting
2019 was another positive financial year for St. John’s. We again closed the year with an overall surplus of funds over expenses. Our ending cash on hand balance was about $60,000, plus our CD balance of over $30,000. Additionally, our trust fund balance, held by the Retirement and Institutional Services division of BB&T ended the year at just over $200,000. For 2020, we are receiving a quarterly interest income of $1,660, which helps ensure our ability to meet our expenses.
To date in 2020 our collections have remained strong. To minimize office visits, counting has been done once per month, which has worked well. Donations arrive by mail, or are placed in the black mailbox outside the train station door. We continue to receive $1,200 monthly as rental income for the rectory building, $200 of which is allocated to Designated Funds for repairs and maintenance.
Our 2020 budget is about equal to 2019, at just above $100,000. Our basic expenses require an annual minimum of approximately $75,000. Again, we must consider the importance of Parishioner Pledges, which remain our main and fundamental means of support. Without these Pledges, and their reliable fulfillment, St. John’s could not exist. While it’s generally accepted that Pledges are 75 to 80% paid, St. John’s was blessed in 2019 with an 86% fulfillment. Even so, budgeting for a church should be within that 75-80% mark for essential items, to remain solvent and to be assured that basic obligations can be met.
The total pledged amount for 2020 decreased to $57,600. Fortunately, even given the strange circumstances of this year, we have collected additional donations which are non-pledged and for holidays, and are blessed that most pledges have been paid to date, which has allowed us to meet our budgeted expenses.
More than ever, every dollar is important and every Pledge is significant. In total they make up the body of our St. John’s Parish, and each member should realize himself or herself as a vital cog in the St. John’s wheel. I believe this to be the most important, significant, and vital message I can relay in this report.
Thank you all again for your confidence. May we continue to work together to keep St. John’s on a financially strong path particularly through this unprecedented and difficult time.
Cheryl Cooper, Treasurer
September 20, 2020
TREASURER’S PERSONAL NOTE:
I want to extend a heartfelt thanks for all your prayers and kind thoughts which have helped me through this sad and unexpected family situation. Most of my summer was spent in Virginia, supporting my daughter as she pieces together her life. This will be a life-long healing process, each day is a bit better, but the unanswered questions linger and will likely never be answered.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like more detail on St John’s finances. While I was able to attend to current payments and other immediate financial items, I am still in the process of catching up with the details, so do not have those available for this report.
Cheryl Cooper, Treasurer
COMMISSIONING NEW PARISH LEADERS:
The newly elected and appointed leaders gather before the assembly and are joined by the incumbent members of the Vestry.
Senior Warden: On behalf of the congregation of St. John’s, Hamlin, Pennsylvania, I present:
[Names of the duly elected members of the Vestry are read], as members of the Vestry of this congregation.
Celebrant: Have these leaders been elected by the congregation or appointed by the vestry in accordance with the bylaws of our congregation?
Senior Warden: They have.
Celebrant: (to the new leaders) Do you commit yourselves to carry out the responsibilities of the office to which you have been appointed?
Leaders: I do.
Celebrant: Do you reaffirm your commitment to follow Christ and to serve this congregation in his name?
Leaders: I do.
Celebrant: (to the congregation) Will you do all in your power to support these leaders with your prayers, your honest yet gracious communication with them, and your willingness to help them carry out Christ’s ministry in this church as we work together to welcome all people to embody the love of Christ?
Congregation: We will.
Celebrant: In the name of this congregation I commission you for this work, and pledge you our prayers, encouragement, and support. May the Holy Spirit guide and strengthen you, that in this, and in all things, you may do God’s will in the service of the kingdom of Christ. Amen.
Let us pray. Almighty God, look with favor upon these persons who have now reaffirmed their commitment to follow Christ and to serve in his name. Give them courage, patience, and vision; and strengthen us all in our Christian vocation of witness to the world, and of service to others; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
END OF ANNUAL REPORT.
Thrift Shoppe News: We will begin accepting winter related donations on October 15, 2020. Please kindly bring clean clothing, shoes, linens, houseware (no furniture) to our thrift shoppe during our open hours: Saturday, Sept 26 from 9am-1pmSaturday, Oct 10 from 9am-1pmWednesday, Oct.14 (our free clothing event) from 10am-noon and from 5pm-7pm Saturday, Oct 24 from 9am-1pm.Thank you to all of our shoppers and our generous donators !Masks are mandatory to enter any of the buildings at St. John’s for all of our safety. Be safe, be well…Final Note: PLEASE DO NOT PILE ITEMS OUTSIDE OF OUR BUILDINGS – ALTHOUGH WE APPRECIATE DONATIONS WE DO NOT ACCEPT BOOKS, VIDEOS, MAGAZINES, DVDS, AND THE LIKE. PLEASE DONATE THOSE ITEMS TO OUR LIBRARIES.
THOUGHTS FROM OUR PRIEST-IN-CHARGE:
16 September 2020
My dear people,
This past Sunday we spent some time thinking about the wicked slave [in Matthew 18] who accepted the forgiveness of a burdensome debt from his master, who then demanded satisfaction of a tiny debt owed to him by a fellow slave. This, of course, angered the master – because the master’s example of generosity became an occasion for greed on the part of the first slave, rather than an effective encouragement for him to change his heart and attitude toward others: his fellow slaves.
This text is often considered to be about how many times one must forgive another. That suggests that a law can change a heart. As we know, laws can only change [or control] behavior by threatening and exercising punishment for disobedience. Jesus was addressing the issues of obedience to the law when he was asked: “how many times?” The implication of that question is that the law demands an act or a “work” be done a number of times in order for the law – the contract – to be fulfilled.
But Jesus wanted to address the nature and condition of the human heart – which is not a matter of the law as much as it is a matter of the spirit.
Needless to say, Jesus’ understanding of true religion has something to do with a changed human heart rather than a mindless and heartless obedience to and fulfillment of laws which see God as a “contractual partner” rather than a loving parent who is crazy-in-love with her children who deserve nothing yet receive everything from God’s own self: and that, from the get-go!
In this parable, Jesus is puzzling about why the human spirit doesn’t change – if out of nothing other than embarrassment. When the generosity and grace of God are so freely given and accepted by the first slave and he is set entirely free of his debt, why and how could he not possibly extend the same grace and generosity to his fellow slave?
I believe that, in the end, the problem of the first slave was that AFTER he had received full grace and pardon he treated that GIFT as his own property and convinced himself that he DESERVED that Divine generosity: it became his possession rather than God’s trust for him to share. I believe that that’s the problem with religion which see God as a “contractual partner” rather than a loving parent who is ‘crazy-in-love’ with us so that we might be crazy-in-love with all of our fellow sister and brother slaves in this world and treat them as we know God treats us. Anything less is hypocrisy.
If we don’t really believe in God as “Our Father, Mother, Parent who art in heaven,” we start to believe in ourselves. And that is, as you know, a quick road to hell! Because we are – as we confess – “by nature sinful and unclean” we confess that we simply “cannot save ourselves.” Saving ourselves does not – and cannot work! And no amount of our ‘works’ can do that. Our salvation is God’s work: fully and completely. How dare we not share what we have so freely, fully and undeservedly received ourselves? That’s the question which is way more important to me than “how many times….?”
I REMIND YOU: Our Annual Meeting will be conducted via social media immediately after worship this Sunday, 20 September 2020. Copies of the bulletin of reports will be available on-line and, if requested, in print from the office.
God has blessed us, one and all. Therefore, let us strengthen each other to be a blessing to others.
Our recorded worship service for Sunday, September 13, 2020 (fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost) may be viewed below:
Our September 6, 2020 worship service (fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost) may be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/457569318
Below is our recorded worship service for August 30, 2020, thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
The link below is for our recorded worship service for August 23, 2020 – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost:
24 August 2020
My dear people,
Here’s a paragraph from James Cone’s book – Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody– about which I spoke yesterday. It very succinctly makes the point of Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” Or, in other words: “What is your theology?”
“Christianity is essentially a religion of liberation. The function of theology is that of analyzing the meaning of that liberation for the oppressed community so they can know that their struggle for political, social, and economic justice is consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Any message that is not related to the liberation of the poor is not Christ’s message. Any theology that is indifferent to the theme of liberation is not Christian theology.”
In still other words: if we, as the Disciples did the night that Jesus was betrayed, deny Christ and say “we have no king but Caesar,” and then ask for the release of Barabbas, we speak for – and indeed become – the antichrist.
Let us therefore, choose Christ and follow Jesus’ example by advocating for political, social and economic justice for all -come what may!
17 August 2020
My dear people,
Yesterday we spoke about Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman recorded in St. Matthew Chapter 15.
“Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.”
I suggested then that Jesus’ embarrassing behavior and attitudes in this story [referred to as “cruel” by the Pope in his Angelus, yesterday] were ‘purposive’ and that Jesus was trying to teach – by example – an object lesson to his disciples and other ‘religious’ people about how ugly their self-righteous religion was. If only they bothered to pay attention! In the first place, Jesus was in Canaanite territory. Jesus was in HER country, not HIS! He was her guest – not the other way around. Secondly, he was reprehensible toward her ON RELIGIOUS GROUNDS and FOR RELIGIOUS REASONS! His arguments to mis-treat a HUMAN sister and a DAUGHTER of GOD were ‘religiously sound!’ Despite Jesus’ own status as a ‘foreigner’ in Canaanite territory, he ‘cops’ a religiously-self-righteous attitude and says: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Yesterday, in discussion with a highly respected colleague of mine – who is a Methodist pastor – whom I shall not name, but whose last name is the same as mine! – Sarah suggested that maybe this was about Jesus really changing his mind! And maybe it is. We could certainly come to the conclusion that Jesus had indeed ‘bought’ for himself the self-righteous, arrogant, exclusive and self-centered religiosity of the disciples around him. He could have been that kind of religious person who sees himself as “saved” by God and others as damned by the same ‘loving’ God.
But whatever the case [and take your pick!] – I firmly believe that the point of the story is that Jesus comes to understand and use the example of the faith – the religion – of the Canaanite woman as an example for his disciples [and according to the idea that Jesus changed his mind, for himself!].
What is the example of the Canaanite woman? In one word: HUMILITY before God! That’s what Jesus perceived and teaches – using her example – as true religion. Genuine humility before God opens our eyes to the value of all the other “lucky Dogs” who COMPLETELY UNWORTHILY gather the crumbs from under the Master’s table. So if we – with her – understand that we are the genuinely UN-deserving recipients of God’s grace, how could we do anything less than share what we have received freely with ALL people at ALL times and in ALL places?
Political attitudes entice us to believe that the exclusion, mis-treatment and denigration of others on the basis of origin, gender, color, sexuality is arguable and permissible on the basis of ‘laws and orders’ norms of society, or national fidelity, or racial superiority, or economic exigency, or national security, etc. And we confuse false political postures with the genuinely religious example of HUMILITY offered by Jesus’ teaching in this text. And, as Christians, we simply cannot get away with that.
I remind you of what Jesus’ dearest friends said to Pilate at Jesus’ trial: “We have no king but Caesar. Away with this man!” And, friends, we add our own voices to that chorus when we lay aside the principals of HUMILITY before ALMIGHTY GOD in favor of clever political arguments which summon us to dis-regard, en-danger, despise, or otherwise de-humanize and animalize our brothers and sisters who are just as un-deserving of God’s love and mercy as we are.
The Canaanite woman’s understanding of herself as an undeserving ‘dog’ – who, although not worthy of the Master’s care, NEEDED and received that care FREELY – is what made Jesus offer her as a POSITIVE MODEL for us to emulate.
Simply put: true religion starts with HUMILITY – and changes our view of the world and everybody in it. True religion has no King but the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
Below is our recorded Zoom worship service for Sunday, August 16, 2020, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost:
Below is our recorded Zoom worship service for Sunday, August 9, 2020- Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – click the link to open the recording:
11 August 2020
My dear people,
Here’s the symbol of the ECUMENICAL World Council of Churches, about which I spoke on Sunday.
I remember seeing this image – or one similar to it – with people in the boat.
For our purposes, and for the message the church wishes to convey, we know for sure that that that boat is ‘occupied,’ whether or not we see the faces of the occupants.
“The terms ecumenism and ecumenical come from the Greek οἰκουμένη (oikoumene), which means “the whole inhabited world”, and was historically used with specific reference to the Roman Empire. The ecumenical vision comprises both the search for the visible unity of the Church (Ephesians 4:3) and the “whole inhabited earth” (Matthew 24:14) as the concern of all Christians. [Wikipedia]
Happy sailing to one and all as we travel together in “life’s boat” – the church – which is our “life boat!”
Our recorded Zoom worship service for Sunday, August 2, 2020, 9th Sunday after Pentecost cam be viewed by click the link below:
3 August 2020
My dear people,
Yesterday we thought about the Feeding of the Multitude story in Matthew 14:13-21.
You certainly know by now that I have great trouble understanding ‘miracles’ as the ‘suspension of the natural order.’ If asked whether I believed “God can do that” I would answer: “Yes. Absolutely!” Now, asked whether or not ‘that’ is what happened, I would be less confident.
My reasoning about this is that such ‘magical’ thinking tends to ignore the absolute and indisputable miracle of creation and human life: what I call “the natural order.” Who and what we are – in the end – simply cannot be fully ‘understood.’ We are moved to grasp at explanations beyond our reason. We project our ideas about our world, its creation and our God. I am happy with a God who creates the natural order, in which we live and of which we are parts. That’s a pretty universal concept. We are here, in this place, and we know a lot – but certainly not all – about how it works. The NATURAL ORDER friends IS the MIRACLE! Why would God suspend the miracle?
In the Biblical miracle stories, I believe Jesus is trying to point to something way more important than the ability of a creator God to interrupt or suspend the natural order.
A great mystery – to which Jesus has a key – is that of the human heart. That “heart” might be described as human attitudes: particularly those beliefs and ‘attitudes’ about God and especially about God’s creation of other human beings, especially those most unlike ourselves.
Yesterday, in the parable, we saw some extraordinarily embarrassing and selfish attitudes displayed by Jesus’ closest friends, the Disciples. They suggested that the crowd who came to be fed by the words of Jesus be sent away “into the villages” to “buy food for themselves.” That pious ‘religious’ community of Jesus’ closest friends, who were glad to be seen as “spiritually fed” wanted to wash their hands of the responsibility of the physical hospitality which demanded that they care for and feed those who gathered there with them. Hospitality, which is an expression of the condition of the human heart is, at its simplest, caring for – even anticipating – the needs of others. The PHYSICAL expression of the Disciples belied the true SPIRITUAL condition of their hearts. The Disciples were not impressive. They were NOT thinking of others and anticipating their needs. They were IN-HOSPITABLE. Hospitality at its simplest may just be a matter thinking, period. You know the ‘Golden Rule.’ THINK! Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!
Jesus uses the word “compassion” as he teaches his ‘own’ embarrassingly self-centered Disciples to “give the crowd something to eat” yourselves! Don’t send them away “into the villages to buy their own food.” As we noted yesterday, the word ‘com-passion’ means ‘to suffer with.’ Compassion is way different from sending people away to care for themselves. Jesus, I am sure, was appalled by the attitudes of his closest friends, after whom we now – and for thousands of years have – named our churches! The Disciples argued budget deficits, financial exigencies, exhausted resources, personal, if not national debt, and all kinds of other clever reasons NOT to care. Jesus called their bluff. He took the very little that was offered – five loaves and two fish – and offered them up to God and acknowledged God as the Creator and the giver of all good gifts. In this, Jesus teaches that God suffers NO deficits. Jesus embarrasses his closest and most pious friends, by proving that there is, in fact, enough to eat when others – that very large crowd gathered on the hillside – are understood to be “com-panions” i.e. those with whom to break bread rather than economic or social burdens or un-worthy recipients of God’s generosity. Simply put, compassion provides companions with whom this is always more than enough.
You see, when Jesus LOOKED to GOD he made an example of and for his Disciples – and the condition of their hearts – as they looked only to themselves for a solution to the problem! In looking to God and learning to see those who needed to be fed as “com-panions,” that which we call a “miracle” occurred. There was not only enough to eat, but plenty left-over.
Now, here’s what I mean. The “enough to eat’ and the ‘left-overs’ were already there! Jesus didn’t magically make more food. Everybody came with some. Everyone already has his ‘own.’ Jesus – by setting an example, and by embarrassing his beloved Disciples – was able to affect and change their human hearts! They learned that even the ‘little’ that they had was NOT their own, but God’s gift to them. That their hearts were changed to believe this IS the miracle. Now that miracle is often harder to believe as possible than the “suspension of the natural order!” But Jesus teaches us that it is, in fact, possible to change the human heart – i.e. human attitudes – as impossible, improbable and miraculous as that may seem. Jesus professes his hope and belief in humanity that we might be saved from ourselves and our own self-centeredness into something more akin to himself by a change of our own hearts. By teaching ‘com-passion’ Jesus promised way more bread and many more ‘com-panions’ than we might imagine: a miraculous amount of both bread and buddies with whom to share and enjoy life and prove the abundance of both God’s love and physical nourishment and sustenance for us and for all in creation.
We have received God’s abundance in full measure. Let us not send others into the villages to buy food for themselves.
Bless you in your sharing,
THRIFT SHOPPE REOPENS
Great News! Our Thrift Shoppe will be back on our regular schedule unless we are told to close again. As for now, we are to be open the 2nd and 4th Saturdays (August 8th and 22nd) from 9am-1pm, with our free days as usual: the Wednesday following the 2nd Saturday of the month from 10am-noon and from 5-7pm. (August 12th). We humbly request any donations be delivered to the Thrift Shoppe on our open days – please only seasonal items, no winter items for the time being.
Our first concern is your safety. Masks are required to be worn in our buildings and everyone is asked to maintain the social distancing protocols (minimum of 6′ distancing between you and other shoppers, please).
Look forward to seeing our customers again!
Many thanks! Pat Ware, Thrift Shoppe Mgr.
27 July 2020
My dear people,
Yesterday, I was very interested in the text of the second lesson from Romans chapter 8:26-39.
First we read: “…we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words….because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
This passage challenges some popular ideas about prayer: what prayer is and ‘how’ to pray. For us, prayer is often a “HONEY DO” list! Frequently, our prayer is telling God what we need and what to do [for us, in particular]. Sometimes prayer is a ‘last resort’ or a ‘go-to’ in times of trouble. As I said yesterday, prayer can be a matter of: “When the tire hits the road, that’s when our knees hit the kneeler.” Prayer can often look like the pious tool of the hypocritically self-righteous. You know who they are: those who are always praying, and praying for others to become just like themselves. Prayer is often referred to as a ‘conversation’ with God.’ Some think that unintelligible utterance (tongues) is a right or better way to pray. And the definitions of prayer may, in fact, be as varied and plentiful as the people who pray. But the insight from the second lesson yesterday was this: “we do not know how to pray as we ought.”
So then, you might quite rightly ask, what are we supposed to do about prayer? How should we pray?
Well, reading a little further in the Romans text, we come across another idea: “It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.”
Here then, we are faced with the concept that BOTH the Spirit of God and the Christ of God intercede – i.e. pray – for us! How’s that for an idea? What an inversion of the concept of prayer! How assuring this is.
That God is ‘omniscient’ (i.e. all-knowing) is not a new idea; but it is an idea worth re-visiting. If GOD ALMIGHTY is understood to be omniscient, God does NOT need to be told about or reminded of anything. The Romans text assures us that the SPIRIT and the SAVIOR have beat us to the punch and already have interceded for us. God knows what we need before we ask.
I find great comfort in the fact that God does not depend upon me to know what my needs – or those of anyone else – are.
Since there are probably as many different definitions of prayer as there are people who pray, could it be, however, in general, that we’ve got this whole thing a little backward? Here’s my question, in a proverbial nut-shell. Could it be that we need to see OURSELVES as the ANSWER to GOD’S prayer rather than to understand God as the answer to our prayers?
Should we be asking whether we have been – or are becoming – what the Spirit sighs for and the Son intercedes for? Should the surprise in this world be that I have lived, loved and acted in answer to God’s prayer rather than that God has answered my prayer?
Don’t you suppose it is a better idea for the imperfect to pay attention to the perfect Creator rather than the other way around? That way, in our prayer, we will become more attuned to God and God’s perfect ways rather than hoping for God to do things according to our imperfect ways. We are, after all, made in the image and likeness of God, not vice-versa.
Maybe our only prayer should be: “May we be the answer to God’s prayer, today.” Isn’t that, in fact, what Jesus meant when he taught his disciples to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”?
Please enjoy our recorded worship service for Sunday, July 26, 2020, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost:
Please enjoy our recorded worship service for Sunday, July 19, 2020, Seventh Sunday after Pentecost:
20 July 2020
My dear people,
Yesterday we were talking about the parable in Matthew 13, which used to be known as the “Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.”
As I was speaking about Robert Campin’s Merode Altarpiece, I wanted to mention something which got side-tracked as my train of thought went down a different line. The point was that in that depiction of the Annunciation, the Virgin is seated on the floor, in front of a pew-like bench, possibly a throne (of Solomon’s wisdom?) which is carved with little lions (of Judah?) and which is backed against a rather large, blackened, but empty and cold fireplace, in front of which is a small fire-screen, which is no-longer needed and is dwarfed in size by both the fire-place and the pew-like throne parked in front of it.
That images suggests to me that, in the Incarnation [the business of Christ being planted in Mary’s fertile body] the rather insufficient fire-screen ‘mechanism,’ which was all that one had to protect one from the hot glare of the raging fires of that (h)earth-blackening hell, God, the Almighty, provides a new ‘mechanism’ which completely quenches the fires of hell, making that small, inadequate, fire-screen unnecessary. The new ‘mechanism’ is the incarnated Christ himself! Christ himself obviates the need for a hell-fire screen by fully and eternally extinguishing hell’s fire and by breaking open hell’s infernal ‘gates of brass’ for all eternity. Who needs a screen if the fire isn’t burning? What is there in place of that screen? A throne of wisdom. A place for God, instead of the fires of hell, to preside and prevail, in this world, with wisdom and love. Remember, Mary is sitting on the floor! It is she – essentially – who becomes the throne of God’s own self and who invites us to do the same by following her example. If that’s not Good News, nothing else is or could be.
As, with Mary, we consider our own un-worthiness, we begin to realize that in the parable, is it we who are often the ‘tares’ rather than the ‘wheat.’ And we acknowledge that when we are particularly self-righteous, pious, and judgmental about others, and about their sincerity and their beliefs, we in fact have ourselves become those very ‘tares.’ When we presume to “help” the Profligate Farmer by weeding HIS garden, with OUR own ‘good intentions,’ we are truly in deep trouble. Note: it is the slaves who offer the farmer “help” which he neither needs nor wants! You know how it goes: we refuse to let ‘them’ be ordained, or to ‘receive’ communion or even to preach in ‘our’ churches, because we perceive ‘them’ to be un-worthy weeds. We become certain that we know the mind of God and we offer to be on the front line of God’s army to root out the enemy. We fool ourselves into believing that we know who in God’s field is ‘wheat’ and who are ‘tares.’ That is the surest sign that we are not being honest with ourselves, with God or with each other. Honestly friends, we know that often we are the tares. Just as surely as there are times when we are the wheat. But this parable reminds us that God is the farmer: as foolish and profligate as that farmer may seem to us. It is God’s will to let the tares grow. The point is that if we think God is a bad farmer, we are worse ones. The parable tells us that we would ruin a good crop for sure if we started to do the weeding.
This parable instructs us about the inscrutable wisdom of an Almighty God who is able to see value and beauty where we do not. Therefore, the parable teaches us NOT to fuss, worry about or up-root others whom we deem to be un-worthy. That is God’s job. Our job is to flourish as best we can right where we are planted. We do that in the knowledge that the fires of hell have been vanquished for us and for the whole world. As we sit on the floor of our own un-worthiness, we are nevertheless encouraged to allow God to plant God’s own seed in us to grow and come to fruition.
Think about this: the wheat in the parable, which is planted by God, when mature, is eventually ground into flour to be baked into bread, as the ‘bun in the oven’ of Mary’s womb. That’s the Incarnation! The church of his day did not see Jesus as wheat but as the ‘tares’ which were choking out old ideas about self-righteousness, piety, purity and the exercise of the law without the Gospel. God saw Jesus differently; and eventually (one might even say ‘too late’) so did the people. That’s the lesson: it is God’s “eventuality” to tend for God’s own garden God’s own way, not ours.
In the mean time, as we learn to acknowledge that we are, in fact, all planted in the same garden of this world, we celebrate our firm belief that in the Incarnation God has moved the throne of God’s own gracious wisdom into our world and across the still-blackened, but now completely cold, mouth of hell. That’s an act of pure and simple grace!
Does it disappoint you that the fires of hell are well and truly quenched for others as well as for yourself? It certainly infuriated the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, [Luke 15:11–32]. He too thought his father needed his help to weed the garden of their household, in which he knew he had served very faithfully. Boy, oh boy, did he have something to learn. So do we! God loves those whom we do not – and that’s the scandal of the wheat and the tares. Let us have ears to hear and hearts to respond.
God bless you in your growth in faith toward God and in fervent love toward all of God’s people.
Fr. RonP.S. Here are a couple examples of useful and nourishing ‘weeds.’
Dandelion is considered as a particularly pesky weed. But we – and lots of the Pennsylvania Dutch – eat the early Spring leaves as a salad, smothered in hot bacon dressing.
Later in the season, some folks make wine from dandelion blossoms.
As a kid, I was always pleased at the generous availability of dandelion flowers to take home as a gift of affection for my mother. In fact it was a final filial gesture for me to place a dandelion flower in the bottom of both of my parents’ graves.
Chicory is a flowering plant in the dandelion family that is characterized by a tough, hairy stem, light purple flowers and leaves that are commonly used in salads. Chicory coffee tastes similar to coffee but has a flavor that’s often described as slightly woody and nutty.
Stinging nettle has a long history of use as a medicinal aid. Stinging nettle, or Urtica dioica, is a common plant that grows in the United States, Canada, and Europe. It primarily grows in damp, fertile soil. The nettle has sharp hairs on its leaves.
And, let’s not forget our Thistle, which is a widely distributed herbaceous plant of the daisy family, which typically has a prickly stem and leaves and rounded heads of purple flowers. And, if we don’t eat it, the birds do!
And, just for your information, below is an image from my garden of the thistle and the tomato about which I spoke, yesterday. They are getting along quite famously. Neither would be the same, without the other.
13 July 2020
My dear people,
Yesterday we spoke about the iconography in the Netherlandish Annunciation Triptych of 1425-1428 by Robert Campin at the Cloisters Museum in New York.
The point I was trying to make was how for a very long time — before our quarantines and worsening national health crisis which obviate the celebration of the sacrament of the altar, at the altar — the right preaching of the Word of God was, in and of itself, understood to be sacramental, if not a sacrament itself.
In the central panel of the Merode Altarpiece, we see, high on the wall, to the left, the “eyes of God” windows looking into the created world of Mary, and into our cosmos as well. That room could represent the Garden of Eden, after the fall. From between those ‘eyes’ – as if from the mind of God – a tiny cross-bearing baby is headed straight for the ear of the Virgin – who is reading the Word of God and hearing the Word of God spoken to her by an angel. How very clearly and simply these images portray the first words of John’s Gospel: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Right before our very eyes, in the proclamation and reading of the Word, God, in the person of Jesus, becomes present in Mary’s flesh to dwell among us.
The same Biblical/theological tenet is similarly made clear in Lucas Cranach the Elder’s triptych for St. Mary’s Church in Wittenberg, painted in 1547 (120 years after the Campin painting and 300 years before our own little church was built!). As we have already seen, the idea that the “Word becomes flesh to live – and die – among us” is put forth in the predella of the Wittenberg altarpiece. As Luther preaches to his congregation in a preaching hall, devoid of ornamentation, the crucified Christ appears, embodied, right before their very eyes.
The point of all of this is that we believe, teach and confess that the Christ is just as really present when the Word of God is rightly preached as when the Sacraments are rightly celebrated.
I offer this for your comfort as we live in times which prevent us from gathering for public worship and sharing the Holy Meal of bread and wine in which we also surely encounter the real presence of Christ.
We are, however, not left comfortless. As we continue to read, and hear God’s Holy Word rightly preached, we have no doubt that we continue to be nourished by God’s real presence. We continue therefore, to be truly and really fed in the sacramental act of hearing – if not in eating. Both, by the way, are acts of ‘consumption!’
Remember the ‘Parable of the Sower’ which we read yesterday. In that parable there were some concerns about where that seed of the Good News of God’s eternal love fell. But we read that there is nothing to worry about in terms of God’s intention to sow that seed at all times, in all places and for all people. As that seed grows in us and we become the body of Christ, the ‘Profligate Farmer’ himself. Let us then be prepared to remember that our job is also to scatter the seed of God’s love – far and wide – fall, where it may. If we are scattering any other kind of seeds than love, we can be sure they are NOT from God.
Bless you in the contemplation of these images, and the truths they attempt to communicate.
In the Word of God, the Christ made flesh and living among us,
Below is the link to our Zoom Worship Service for July 12, 2020 – 6th Sunday after Pentecost:
Please enjoy our recorded Zoom Worship Service for July 5, 2020, 5th Sunday after Pentecost:
Thursday, July 2, 2020
My dear people,
I write to you as I am preparing to go to Allentown today to preside at the grave-side burial of my dear Aunt Gertrude, who – just 16 days short of her 105th birthday – died yesterday morning.
I saw her last on Tuesday morning. It was clear then that she was moribund. She was essentially incommunicado, morphine had had its effect. But before I left, she rallied just enough to whisper to me: “I love you.”
Now, that’s a message she always made clear to me, from the very beginning. And, how like our God – who in the beginning creates us, and loves us from ‘get-go’ – she made that understood. And how like our beloved Savior, she used her very last breath to assure me of that same and durable love. How very grateful I am for her life and example and love.
In order to genuinely appropriate and appreciate such love we are left with only one task. That is, to share with each other and the whole world that same kind of love which is surely divine, which encourages and improves and strengthens and heals us so that the world we come into might be a better place when we leave it. That she has done.
I thank you – one and all – for your on-going care and concern about her and her well-being over the years. You know what she meant to me. I am, with you, confident that the mystery of love which brings us into this world and the mystery of love which we share in this world is a good and true and benevolent and beautiful love which takes care of us – whatever and whoever we may be – when we are no longer in this world.
Let us celebrate those mysteries remembering this wonderful line from Richard Strauss’ opera based on Oscar Wilde’s drama Salome:
Das Geheimnis der Liebe ist Größer als das Geheimnis des Totes
Surely, the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death!
Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
29 June 2020
My dear people,
On Sunday, we spoke a bit about Lucas Cranach, the Elder’s altar painting, which was created – after the vagaries of protestant iconoclasm – for St. Mary’s Church in Wittenberg, Germany, That altar piece was surely intended as a corrective for what had, and an explanation of what was, going on there – both in church and society – at the time of the Reformation. I spoke particularly of the predella which appears under a larger painting of the Last Supper. The Last Supper image is interesting in itself – anachronistically depicting the disciples in the dress of the day. They look for the world like a bunch of 16th c. northern European protestants.
I am sure that the image below (in the predella) – which is of Luther preaching to his congregation from a “wren’s nest” pulpit (high on the right wall) – is meant to interpret what is painted above. I am just as sure that that painting of Luther preaching, in an absolutely unadorned [no pictures, no statues, no windows] and otherwise empty room, to a congregation gathered on the far left side of the hall, is meant to communicate the sacramental nature, if not the sacrament itself, of the proclaimed Word of God in preaching! View the full image and information here: https://www.medieval.eu/ways-cranach/
If you look at the Cranach predella, you will see what appears to be another anachronism. Between Luther and his congregation, the crucified Christ, has materialized, in the very same way that the Christ is materialized and sitting at the table in the depiction of the Last Supper, painted above.
Now, you might ask, why is this so important to us now? Dennis Ngien in themelios says it most concisely in these words:
“Luther elevated preaching as an indispensable means of grace, seeing it as central to the church liturgy. ‘To hear mass means nothing else but to hear God’s Word and thereby serve God.’ In his On the Councils and the Church (1539), Luther asserted that the preaching office constitutes the sure sign of a true church: Now, wherever you hear or see this word preached, believed, professed, and lived, do not doubt that the true Catholic church: ‘a Christian holy people’ must be there, even though their number is small.”
And, so the situation is precisely the same for us now as we deal – and struggle – with the limitations imposed on our eucharistic sacramental life in response to the Covid-19 virus. We may indeed be without bread and wine – but we are NEVER without the nourishment of the Word in which we encounter the Almighty God alive.
This is neither a novel idea nor simply theological tenet from the Lutheran Reformaion. We recall the words of St. John 1:14
”And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
And so, friends, we may not be sharing bread and wine at the moment, but we are NOT WITHOUT the SACRAMENT of the real presence of a living loving God who comes to us in the person of the Christ as the Good News is both proclaimed and lived out among us.
Later in John’s Gospel 14:18, we are assured:
“I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”
Our recorded worship service for June 28, 2020, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost via Zoom may be enjoyed here:
22 June 2020
My dear people,
Yesterday, I indicated my excitement about the times in which we live. Believing, as we do, that God calls all of creation out of chaos; and that God is capable of making a NEW creation by RE-creating the old world and former things. Therein is my hope, and, I believe, the hope of the entire church and world.
I provided an example, yesterday, of a Lutheran Pastor in New Jersey who just this week resigned, ostensibly for having been asked NOT to be “political” – meaning NOT to talk about American racism and race-baiting from the highest offices in this land, because that: “would likely prove to be divisive within the church.”
I propose that the Church of Jesus Christ, simply CANNOT be understood to support racism in any of its permutations. The church, by it’s very nature, must speak out against – and NAME – racism wherever it occurs, starting within our own hearts. If there is a place, organization, system or government where racism is NOT named, NOT called out, NOT rebuked, that simply is NOT the church! Anyone who attempts to USE the church as a pious white sheet to cover his/her own racism, hatred, bigotry, and sin simply has NO IDEA of what the church really is.
We know that our nation was built in large part on the backs of humans who were tragically torn from their homes, transported in sub-human conditions, divided from their families, subjected to unimaginable indignities and abuse, who were objectified and understood and treated as animals and forced to work to make their white ‘owners’ financially wealthy and, coincidentally, simultaneously morally and spiritually bankrupt. That – shameful as it is – is our heritage.
We know that Jesus opposed every aspect of slavery. We know that Jesus advocated for women, for children, for the outcast, for the ill and the dis-abled, for widows, for orphans, for the sinner and for all marginalized and objectified people. The behaviors of our slave-owning forbears prove that they did NOT agree with Jesus. When we subscribe – wittingly or not – to racist attitudes and behaviors we betray the fact that we too DIS-agree with Jesus and that we then are not, in fact, the church: the body of Christ.
When public policy, social systems, economies, attitudes, educational and employment opportunities, public services provided by governments and agencies either favor or dis-favor any human being for any reason, it is our job as Christians to NAME that evil as contrary to our understanding of Jesus’ message and the church’s purpose and mission. It is offensive to us and our faith to argue racism, racist behaviors, racist policies, etc. as in any way “Christian.”
As the Christian community we gather to RE-member the body of Christ and to do Christ’s will in the world. It is our job to remind ourselves and the world around us what Jesus’ message was. In doing that, we must ask ourselves – sincerely – what would Jesus say or do about any given situation. And, after lifetimes of “practicing” our religion, we are enabled to be clear and we are called to SPEAK that TRUTH in LOVE, come what may.
The argument that believing our faith might have something to do with the world in which we live and how we live in it is “political” – meaning, NOT in the purview of the church – is a clever dodge and a feeble invitation for the church NOT to be the church. If ‘political’ positions, postures and policies are CONTRARY to the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, then we must say so, and SAY so CLEARLY. We are constrained neither to whisper nor to dissemble about our faith. If anyone in public life subscribes to policies, and positions which are contrary to that Gospel, then no amount of Bible-waving or picture-taking in front of historic church buildings will alter our Christian reality. Truth cannot be denied, no matter how difficult some may attempt to make life for those who do, in fact, tell the truth.
Is being a Christian about how we live in this world as we grow to understand ourselves ever more clearly as Christ’s body? I am certain it is. Are we to be talked down about our faith, by clever arguments and expectations, that we should preserve some kind of perverse ‘peace’ (or truce?) in our congregations by NOT telling the TRUTH? I certainly hope not!
Are we on the brink of God’s new creation which is being called out of our current chaos? I am just as certain of that as I am that our work as the Body of Christ will never come to an end. The poor we will always have with us. Hatred, bigotry, prejudice, ignorance and racism and the lie of white supremacy will always be with us during our lifetimes. But, so will the immutable TRUTH of the love of GOD for all of creation, which is not just long-lived, but ETERNAL; and therein is our joy and our hope.
Bless you, one and all!
For your pleasure, our recorded Zoom worship service for Sunday, June 21, 2020, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost:
Please enjoy our recorded Zoom worship service for Sunday, June 14, 2020, Second Sunday after Pentecost:
8 June 2020
My dear people,
Thinking about the complexities of the Holy Trinity took up much of yesterday’s sermon and today’s earlier “For the Flock.”
There are, however, some extremely important issues about our current national and world situations which warrant our attention.
Yesterday I shared an encounter between me and a Viet Nam vet in an antique store in Ellsworth, Maine, on the 21st of August in 2014. When I asked the man who was tending that store what he expected of a Trump presidency, for which he hoped. He responded with one simple word. He said: “Chaos.” I have come to believe that his wish has been fulfilled.
Chaos is very unsettling and even frightening. But I suggested yesterday that chaos is not necessarily a cause of us to lose hope in these very uncertain times. Not only has the political expectation of that vet in Maine been fulfilled, it has been exponentially compounded by the global virus pandemic. That has brought with it a complexity of chaoses: not only in the medical, financial, social and political worlds in which we live, it has also often brought chaos into our personal lives.
What can we do about all of this? Losing hope is one option. But losing hope is NOT OUR OPTION!
I remind you that our very lengthy first lesson yesterday, from chapters one and two of Genesis, reported an account of God calling forth all of creation from complete and utter chaos.
I would like to re-visit OUR belief in a God who can create the Garden of Eden out of chaotic nothingness and into which God places his dearly-beloved people: you and me.
I ask you to consider the current chaos as in no way beyond God’s creative and ordering power and influence. I ask you to remember what God did “in the beginning.” And I ask you to consider the possibility that God is not only capable of – but desirous of – making a ‘new creation’ out of our currently chaotic crises.
I have seen in the past week sustained and peaceful protests and demonstrations aimed at seeking freedom, justice and air to breathe for all. I have heard the requests of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Eric Garner, George Floyd and others for their oppressors to remove their feet and knees from their necks so that they might breathe. I have seen people of all stripes and stations – and from around the world – make this demand, and make it peacefully and lovingly. Already I see change. By God’s grace and activity, I have hope for much more to come that is positive.
In the last two weeks we have celebrated Pentecost and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in which we ask for God to breathe onto and into us. We have talked about the liturgical symbols we use in celebrating our liturgies which focus on that request. We thought about the eipiclesis – the liturgical action of the extension and ‘imposition of hands’ – in which we ask the Holy Spirit to come specifically to a person or to accompany earthly elements (oil, water, wine) in order to do God’s will through ordinary things in the sacraments and even in our own flesh!
We spoke of the very obvious symbol of the Holy Spirit’s presence and work in the insufflation or ‘blowing on’ of the waters at baptism in the blessing of the font and on the holy oils at the Maundy Thursday Chrism Mass.
We believe that God’s Holy Spirit comes to us and to the ordinary things of this world in order to be with us and to empower us to make that “new creation” happen. As the Holy Spirit empowers us ordinary people to speak truth, advocate for freedom and justice, and to trample down satan under our feet we can see the beginnings of that ‘new creation’ starting to take shape. That should, I believe, in some measure, relieve our anxieties. In a “new creation” old things pass away. We very clearly know what some of those old things are: racism, sexism, ageism, elitism, inequality of every kind, and ideas that aggrandize one at the expense of another.
I welcome God’s ‘new creation’ which I firmly believe can and will come – yes, even a new global Jerusalem – which I firmly believe God can create out of this chaos by using us to live and love as did Jesus: humbly before the Throne of God and no other.
Bless you, Fr. Ron
8 June 2020
My dear people,
Yesterday we celebrated Trinity Sunday and spent some time thinking about the very peculiar Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity : one God in three persons.
Over the centuries, many and serious attempts have been made to promulgate, define and explain this ‘doctrine.’ As you know the word itself – “Trinity” – is not to be found in scripture. These complex ideas about God have evolved (I referred to the the Council of Nicea in 325, the Council of Constantinople in 381 and the Council of Chalcedon in 451) over a very long time and are rooted in the early life of the church. I believe such “evolutions” in thinking continue to this day and ought to!
We can only imagine what Christians must look like to other monotheistic folks of faith, such as Jews and Muslims, when they encounter our inexplicable doctrine of the Holy Trinity! My joy in our position, however, is that the doctrine of the Trinity is really an expression (or perhaps a confession) of a faith community which – in its early life, at least – seems to have an EXPANDING understanding of who God is: more accurately, HOW God is and HOW God works. That ‘understanding’ suggests that we are clearly aware of what GOD DOES without a clear understanding of all that God is. We must confess that God really cannot be fully understood or grasped by the human mind. If that were possible, we would NOT have a God at all, would we!
The doctrine of the Trinity is not without its problems – nor is it without its benefits. It is problematic for me that the ‘gender’ of two of the three persons of the Trinity is ‘male.’ A Father Creator and a Son Redeemer. The Holy Spirit is usually portrayed as a bird: a dove. I need not explain the difficulties that presents for much of the child-bearing, female population without whom humanity could not procreate. Consequently, we can understand the roots – even the inevitability – of the cult of Mary which, in the Middle Ages, comes to confess and believe in St. Mary as both Mediatrix, and along with her Son, the Co-Redemptrix. These issues and ideas are still very much alive in the Roman Church and elsewhere today.
It is my concern that beyond our peculiar doctrines as Trinitarian Christians, our understanding of Jesus as the second person of the God-head has lead some to take positions based on words, which I do not believe that Jesus ever spoke. Those words are recorded in John 14:6:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In coming to believe, and in arguing, that Jesus is the second person of the Holy Trinity, it is apparent that the early church felt a need – for whatever reason – to make Jesus an indispensable part or “person” of the God-head. Eventually, creedal agreement became necessary for ‘true communion’ with the body of believers who subscribed to this doctrine. So there were those who agreed and those who did not. The result was the church came to see itself as the purveyor and protector of commonly agreed upon ideas about who God WAS rather than WHAT GOD DOES. Having so very clearly seen what God DID in Jesus, the equation became simple: that Jesus WAS God rather than that Jesus DID (lived, spoke and acted like) God!
The early church quickly became more occupied with the business of working out WHO GOD WAS rather than WHAT GOD DOES in and with human beings.
That’s the point of keeping our understanding of Jesus as FULLY HUMAN as well as fully divine. That prevents us from arguing that his example is impossible for us to follow because we are not fully Divine! That means, in fact, that God can do in and with us (as the Body of Christ) exactly what God did in and with Jesus!
In its early understanding of itself as the Body of Christ, the church confessed its need to continue and be about the work of Jesus which was simply allowing GOD TO ACT in and through them – and now, us. In many ways, Jesus’ life and work were often in conflict with what others thought about God. In doing the WILL of God, Jesus contradicted what many folks thought God was and was like. Often, Jesus was seen to be out of bounds and in violation of the law. But NEVER was Jesus seen not to be healing the sick of body, mind and soul. Never was Jesus seen not to be caring for the poor, the marginalized, the immigrant, the outcast and the sinner. The scandal of Jesus was that he proved that God could and did in fact live in a human being and did, in fact, do the Divine work of loving human kind in human flesh. Jesus simply lived what he believed. That belief is the foundation of all monotheistic belief. One God creates the whole world and all who live in it; and that God loves what that One God creates. Jesus didn’t worry so much – or at all – about what anyone thought God was. He simply spent his life doing what God did at creation: i.e. he loved all of creation and everyone in it. The creeds which we inherit seem more concerned with WHAT we BELIEVE about God, and about Jesus in particular than about how God lived in and through Jesus.
I firmly believe it is way more important for us to pay attention to, and be concerned, about how Jesus’ lived his life and loved and served others than it is to worry overmuch what others have said they believe about him.
I see no evidence in Scripture that Jesus ever asked people what they believed, before he ministered to them. Rather, he allowed those whom he heard, and healed and loved, to come to belief about him and his motivation: his God. Jesus simply made what he believed about God manifest and visible by how he lived and associated with others. Because Jesus saw all people as equally beloved of God and as his brothers and sisters, the early church quite naturally compared him with and eventually equated him to his Divine motivation: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who was also the God of Joseph and Mary. Of course it was understandable that folks “came to the Father” by observing and knowing Jesus. But, I find nothing which suggests that God is limited to being known in God’s own creation by the singular necessity of knowing Jesus. I don’t think Jesus did either. We must also remember what Jesus is reported to have said in Mark 3:35
“Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Do we come to know what God is like and what God does by knowing Jesus? Of course! Can others come to know God without doing that our way? I certainly believe so! How could I possibly imagine that I could confine or restrict God from being known by others if they did not subscribe to a doctrine which I can hardly explain or contemplate myself?
My question of Christians is : “Has God done such a bad job of loving all of the rest of God’s own creation that I could possibly say that others cannot come to the Father [which implies that God cannot go to them!] unless they believe exactly the way I do? Do you see a problem in this?
I do believe we have much to share with others and their traditions. I also believe we have much to learn from them as well.
Here are a couple of words from other traditions which I believe – without compromising a jot or tittle of our own theology – we can share and use. These words might open some small doors for us to peek at other traditions and begin to glimpse a God at work who is larger than our ability to define. That is a God who is alive and present among all people, even those who neither know the name of Jesus or ever will.
Ahimsa – is an ancient Indian principle of nonviolence which applies to all living beings. It is a key virtue in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
And, I believe, according to Jesus, in Christianity as well.
Namaskar – a traditional Indian greeting or gesture of respect, made by bringing the palms together before the face or chest and bowing.
I see parallels in this with the Christian liturgical use of the kiss of peace and the use of incense in which those things and people which are greeted and ‘censed’ are honored as ‘holy.’ What is NOT CHRISTIAN about acknowledging the bodies of others, as well as one’s own, as temples of the Lord?
Namaste – what one says when giving a Namaskar.
Don’t we say the same when we greet each other with: “The Lord be with you.”
Satyagraha – holding onto truth, or truth force, is a particular form of nonviolent resistance or civil resistance. Someone who practices satyagraha is a satyagrahi.
Did Jesus do anything less in always speaking truth in love to all in need and all in authority?
Bless you, Fr. Ron
Tuesday 2 June 2020
My very dear people,
Please do not make the mistake of believing that when Donald J. Trump walked to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. for a photo-op yesterday, that in that moment, the president of the United States had somehow ‘gone to church.’ We just celebrated Pentecost on Sunday. In that celebration we remembered that the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church has ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING to do with BEING CLEARLY UNDERSTOOD in every language. That includes ‘body language.’ And that includes the language of photographic images which is what “photo-ops” are all about. Yesterday, the unexpected arrival of a party from the neighboring WHITE HOUSE – made up entirely of White people – at the boarded-up building of the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. was not a matter of church attendance. It was not a matter of prayer: no knee was bowed, no hands were folded, no eyes were closed, no silence was kept. Nor was that unexpected visit to that place a matter of Bible study or the celebration of a liturgy. In the president’s own words “a Bible” which he could not call his own, was there. That Bible was used as a ‘totem.’ That Bible was neither opened nor read. The Word which that Bible contained was kept and remained silent. That Bible was offered as a visual image meant to portray a religious piety which was not displayed in any fashion, either private or public. That Bible and the background of the church building were (ab)used to convey a message that what the president says and does is either somehow related to or rooted in scripture and the church. But NOTHING that was done in that photo-op yesterday was, in any way, related to either. You and I both know that the ‘Church of Jesus Christ’ is not a building made with hands. The Church is constructed by God’s Holy Spirit with the ‘living stones’ of the faithful people of God. Without a shadow of a doubt, our need to be ’socially-distant’ in response to the Covid-19 virus has proven reality of that truth for us and for the world. Our St. John’s lives on and thrives right now, outside of, and without the regular use of a ‘temple’ or church ‘building.’ Simply put: “The Church is not a building.” Simply put: the president did NOT visit a Church yesterday. The world famous duo of Richard Avery and Don Marsh – for more than 40 years, pastor and musician from the First Presbyterian Church in Port Jervis, NY – published a song we all know, and last sang together at the Shrove Tuesday pancake supper. Here’s the full text. Please “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” these words, because “they are true and can be trusted.”
Refrain: I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together! 1. The church is not a building; the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place; the church is a people. (Refrain) 2. We’re many kinds of people, with many kinds of faces, all colours and all ages, too from all times and places. (Refrain) 3. Sometimes the church is marching; sometimes it’s bravely burning, sometimes it’s riding, sometimes hiding; always it’s learning. (Refrain) 4. And when the people gather, there’s singing and there’s praying; there’s laughing and there’s crying sometimes, all of it saying: (Refrain) 5. At Pentecost some people received the Holy Spirit and told the Good News through the world to all who would hear it. (Refrain) Now, just a couple of things about visiting churches. There is a well-known etiquette – both social and ecclesiastical – about joining groups of people at worship (being the church) and visiting church buildings. That etiquette is one of respect. Even the Queen of England, the Head of State – who personally owns Westminster Abbey – does not show up there unannounced. In some ecclesiastical traditions, when bishops visit parish churches, they perform a quaint, but significant act, of requesting entry by rapping, from the outside, on the door of the parish church with their croziers (pastoral staffs) and waiting for permission and an invitation from the parish priest, to enter. And when we ourselves visit churches, synagogues, mosques or temples of other traditions, we show respect. We go to see, and learn, and sometimes even to participate with others, in their faithful expressions. NONE of that happened yesterday when the White House rudely and violently pushed its way through peaceful, respectful protestors to arrive, unannounced and unexpected, at an historic Episcopal house of worship, to create a falsely-pious photographic image intending to use the well-known language of a ‘photo-op’ to dissemble to the nation and the world visual assumptions which are not coincident with the Episcopal Church in particular or Christianity in general. That inappropriate behavior elicited the response of The Rt. Rev’d. Marianne Edgar Budde, Episcopal Bishop of Washington, D.C. This is a report, from the New York Daily News of her reaction, and of what she said: “A Washington, D.C., bishop criticized President Trump for standing in front of a church and holding a Bible near the White House after protesters were cleared from the area near Lafayette Park by police with tear gas. “Let me be clear: The president just used a Bible, the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese without permission as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our churches stand for,” Episcopal Diocese of Washington Bishop Marianne Edgar Budde told CNN shortly after the president walked to St. John’s Episcopal Church to give a short speech declaring his intent to be a “law and order” president. “And to do so… he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the church yard. I am outraged,” Budde said.” I offer this to you, Lutheran pastor that I am, serving as your Episcopal priest-in-charge, so that you may hear – and understand as clearly as the Holy Spirit of Pentecost makes it possible to understand – from your “own Episcopal bishop” who is on the front lines in the nation’s capitol and bishop of St John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square in D.C. I thank God for our membership together in the Spirit-filled Body of Christ. I delight in our mission to speak truth to power as well as our mission to speak mercy, promise and hope to the poor, the powerless and those in need. Let the voice of the Lord be heard in all the land! Bless you, Fr. Ron, Priest-In-Charge St. John’s Episcopal Church Hamlin, Pennsylvania
Monday, June 1, 2020
My dear people,
Just in case you’re interested in the Maxwell Anderson text to “Lost in the Stars” which I read at the beginning of my sermon yesterday, here ’tis:
LOST IN THE STARS
Before Lord God made the Sea and the Land
He held all the stars in the palm of his hand
And they ran through his fingers like grains of sand
And one little star fell alone
So the Lord God hunted through the white night air
For the little dark star on the wind down there
And he stated and promised
To take special care
So it wouldn’t get lost again
Now a man don’t mind if the stars grow dim
And the clouds blow over and darken him
So long as the Lord God ‘s watching over him
Keeping track how it all goes on~
So the Lord God hunted through the white night air
For the little dark star on the wind down there
And he stated and promised
To take special care
So it wouldn’t get lost again
But I’ve been walking through the night, through the day
Till my eyes get weary and my head turns grey
And sometimes it seems maybe God’s gone away
Forgetting the promise that we’ve heard him say
And we’re lost out here in the stars
Little stars and big stars
Blowing through the night
And we’re lost out here in the stars
Forgetting the promise that we’ve heard him say
Little stars and big stars
Blowing through the night
And we’re lost out here in the stars
As you know, reading this verse brought me to tears, and that was for more than one reason. But as our nation and our world seems to be spinning out of control, we can certainly understand the poet’s concern that:
“. . . sometimes it seems maybe God’s gone away Forgetting the promise that we’ve heard him say”
And surely friends, it is our job “at all times and in all places and under all circumstances” to proclaim the promise of God’s love as well as to prove our belief kin that promise by how we live and act and treat each other.
Racism, nationalism, sexism, Nazism, injustice, oppression and inequality of any kind deny that promise and take our BREATH away. When Jesus was crucified, he essentially died of SUFFOCATION. But we know that before his death “HE BREATHED ON” his disciples with a BREATH that can neither be suffocated nor taken away: the Holy Spirit. It is up to us now, as much as ever, to use GOD’S BREATH to speak the language of God’s eternal love for ALL PEOPLE by speaking truth, seeking justice, advocating for the poor and powerless, providing health care for all, asylum for the refugee and succor for all in need.
Why? So that we may never be:
“. . . lost out here in the stars Forgetting the promise that we’ve heard him say”
View our recorded Zoom virtual worship service for May 31, 20, The Day of Pentecost:
27 May 2020
My dear people,
The lilies-of-the-valley, which have created a carpet of leaves on the floor of the garden behind my home and spread elsewhere as well, are just beginning to bloom, as they always do in the month of May, the month in which many Christians remember the Virgin May who is sometimes called the “Queen of Mary.”
There is an old tradition that these tiny, gorgeous, bell-like flowers, with an enormous fragrance, first sprang forth miraculously from the earth at the foot of the cross precisely where the tears of the Virgin Mary fell. In fact, there are those who refer to the lilies of the valley as Our Lady’s Tears. A lovely tradition indeed!
Despite the beauty of the season and the improvement in the weather and the promise of impending summer, there is much about which we might – and recently have – shed tears: and sorrowful ones at that.
We might weep for ourselves and the on-going exigencies of wondering and worrying about how to be safe and stay sane in the throes of a global pandemic. There are, however, some lilies beginning to grow where some tears have fallen. Last evening Jim Griffin, asked by Michael to be proxy Sr. Warden, and Jean Pettinato, as a member of our Parish Nursing Program, and I attended a Zoom meeting with Bishop Kevin and other diocesan leaders to discuss crafting individually-tailored plans to return to our parish church buildings. There are, in fact, lilies beginning to spring forth from where those tears have fallen. As you know, cultivating growing things takes time, intelligence, science, care, and agreeable conditions for success. We are taking the necessary time – and I assure you, we are not dragging our feet! – in this matter. We are relying on the gathered intelligence from the Center for Disease Control and the information gathered by our diocesan leadership in this matter. We are relying on science and not making plans based on wishful thinking, or economic exigencies or political partisan politics. We are engaging in on-going rational and logical thinking in this matter. You will know in absolutely every step of the way where we are in the decision-making process.
Very soon, you will hear from Jean, and separately from Jim, with a report about last night’s meeting, and suggestions about early first steps for us to take. A primary concern for us at St. John’s is the nature of our aging and aged congregation which places us among the most vulnerable to the virus.
As you know, all proposals for returning to the campus at St. John’s will require the action of your vestry. Nothing will come to the vestry for action which has not first been discussed with and approved by Bishop Kevin personally. That’s how this will work – and work it will. Lilies will grow where tears have fallen, for sure. We must, however, be patient.
I will leave you with these words from the book of James 5:7, which Johannes Brahms crafted so beautifully into his Ein deutsches Requiem:
So seid nun geduldig, lieben Brüder, bis auf die Zukunft des Herrn. Siehe, ein Ackermann wartet auf die köstliche Frucht der Erde und is geduldig darüber, bis er empfahe den Morgenregen und Abendregen.
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.
Say nothing of the Virgin’s Tears and our own lilies-of-the-valley!
Bless you,Fr. Ron
Our Zoom Worship Service – Sunday, May 24, 2020 – 7th Sunday of Easter:
Our Zoom Worship Service Sunday, May 17, 2020 – 6th Sunday of Easter:
18 May 2020
My dear people,
It was forty-five years ago today that I was ordained at Christ-St. John Lutheran Church in West New York, New Jersey. I remained in that congregation for the next twenty-four and a half years. During those years we worshipped in German and English and Spanish.
I shared this with you yesterday during the sermon, in an attempt to make the point – the point that I believe Jesus was making – that the IMPORTANCE of the GOSPEL is that it be sincerely and joyfully proclaimed in a sensitive and INTELLIGIBLE fashion to all people, at all times and in all places.
I shared with you St. Paul’s concern, from 1st Corinthians 14, that:
“. . . .the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.”
The point is that religion, as Jesus understood it, has no ‘professionals,’ and holds no ‘secrets.’ The Gnostic Heresy tried that one on a long time ago, and was resoundingly denounced by the church. [You know, as a Lutheran, I was not allowed to join any club or fraternal lodge – even though based on Scripture – which kept secrets, because my job was NEVER to keep secrets about the Gospel!]. So when it comes to the Gospel there is NO secret language, NO secret hand-shake, NO secret vocabulary. NO secret tongue. Period!
On looking for an excuse NOT to communicate the Gospel, the question is sometimes asked: “How can we communicate God’s love, if THEY won’t learn to speak ENGLISH as we did; or the way our forefathers did (and we didn’t have to!)?” Do you sense an ‘edge’ or an ‘attitude’ just in how that question is posed? That attitude communicates something like: “This is our secret language; unless you learn it you will not be admitted to the secret society of God’s love for us and our kind.” There is absolutely NOTHING EVANGELICAL about that kind of attitude. [I’m using the word “evangelical” here to mean “of the Good News” and NOT as a description of a denominational preference! The word comes from the Greek word “aggelos” which means “messenger” and is the same root as the word “angel.” Just FYI double ‘gg’ in Greek is pronounced “ng.”] That is an attitude which is way too prevalent in our world and in our country. NO! You did not hear me say that it’s not a good idea to learn English. If you live here and don’t have the language, you will certainly be at a disadvantage. BUT, neither did you hear me say that if your neighbor, an immigrant, an asylum-seeker, a foreigner does not speak English that he or she should not be a beneficiary of the Good News just as freely and fully as we are. There are NO BARS TO SHARING THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD’S LOVE FOR ALL PEOPLE. But, as we know, there are a few excuses. Sometimes one of those excuses is “they need to learn English.”
You and I both know that way before we ever get to a common spoken lingua franca, we speak a very intelligible and clearly understood lingua franca of attitude, posture, gesture and yes, politics, which clearly betray exactly what we think long before we ever speak a word. You’ve heard of ‘body language.’ Well, I believe there is also un-spoken ‘religious body language’, which is also expressed not only in our bodies but also in our attitudes and our spirits toward others.
Religion often sees itself as having the right kind of ‘religious behaviors.’ These are theologies, attitudes, forms of worship and languages of prayers which make what we really believe about God, and ourselves and others patently clear. People KNOW whether or not ours is a God of welcome, love, succor, encouragement, mercy and love, or not. That happens long before we ever SPEAK a word with our mouths. It happens long before they may ever come to see us at worship, or hear our prayers or speak “English the way we do.”
Paul implies that if what we say with our mouth does NOT coincide with how we live – i.e. those attitudes and body languages and spiritual attitudes of ours – we will be seen as hypocrites! Funny isn’t it that Paul and Jesus agree with God! Paul and Jesus understand – AND PENTECOST PROCLAIMS – that language and all that which is “foreign” to us is not, will not be, and cannot be a BARRIER to the proclamation of God’s love which we are called and enabled to share by the grace of the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will make us and God’s love INTELLIGIBLE to others, not arcane. Simply put: “religious body language’ communicates either for good or for ill. Actions do indeed speak louder than words!
This Thursday (the 21st) is ASCENSION DAY. If we were in the church building and worshipping on that day, we would extinguish the PASCAL CANDLE at the reading of the Gospel. Alternatively, if we did not celebrate on Ascension Thursday, we would extinguish the Paschal Candle at the reading of the Gospel on PENTECOST SUNDAY (the 31st). This quiet act is the great symbol that Jesus has finally been taken up into heaven never to be seen again in flesh.This is also the initiating act of the church’s major celebration of the descent of the HOLY SPIRIT on the disciples and the charge to them (and to us) to continue the em-BODY-ment and proclamation of God’s love “to all nations,” and in their own languages!
As we come to the end of the Easter Octave and anticipate what we will celebrate in the ASCENSION and at PENTECOST, let us acknowledge that we understand that by ourselves, and without the Holy Spirit, we are completely incapable of embodying Christ, as the church or proclaiming God’s Gospel with either the right attitudes or the right languages. Let us acknowledge that without the presence of God in our lives, in the person of the HOLY SPIRIT, our religion would be empty hypocrisy: “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Let us humbly ask for God’s Holy Spirit to descend upon us all – individually and corporately – so that we may be empowered to share God’s love INTELLIGIBLY with all people, at all times and in all places, as freely as God has shared that love with us.
We used to sing a lovely song at summer camp. I’m sure many of you know it. Simply sung and simply put it was: “They will know we are Christians by our love!” Love is the God we worship. Love is the language we speak. Love is our lingua franca. Love is the universally-understood language of God. Love is often spoken WITHOUT A WORD. And love is never sincerely spoken WITHOUT BEING UNDERSTOOD!
Bless you in being UNDERSTOOD for what you believe by how you live!
P. S. THIS IS FROM THE BIRDS! Just after 5am this morning, I went out on the front porch, with my first cup of coffee in hand, and delighted in the ‘morning chorus’ of birdsong. Chirping and tweeting and twittering and whoo-whooing, and cawing and even screeching. I was astounded by the joyous cacophony.
It occurred to me that although I don’t understand the vocabulary of what the birds are saying to each other (and I’m not sure that the the dove’s coo is understood by the cawing crow), I do understand this: that is – all of it – the extraordinarily beautiful sound of MATING CALLS and invitations to love-making. I wonder, dear friends, whether we hear the extraordinarily beautiful call from God to us, in Pentecost, to join the daily “morning chorus” in order to sing the song of God’s love for all people?
11 May 2020
My dear people,
Yesterday we managed – yet again – another successful Zoom-session worship service. I cannot tell you how much it pleases me to see and be in touch with you, and to hear and watch the interaction among yourselves. I’m told that our attendance total was 43. I know for sure that there were folks there from New Jersey and Massachusetts.
We began with words of caution about adopting the cultural celebration of “Mother’s Day” into the church calendar. You may have noticed that I purposely shared my concerns BEFORE worship began. You’ve heard this from me before. However, it bears repeating. What we receive as “Mother’s Day” today – was NOT what was intended by its founders. In fact, the founders Ann Jarvis and her daughter Anna opposed what “Mother’s Day” soon turned into and what we know now as Mother’s Day: commercial cards, carnations, etc. It’s worth a peek at the history of the celebration on-line.
My concern is that for very good reason, many women find “Mother’s Day” offensive and hurtful. “Mother’s Day” is quite naturally gender-specific and therefore – despite the ‘Father’s Day’ sequel – not sufficiently inclusive to be a part of our celebrations of the Universality of the Gospel : for all people, at all times and in all places. And those “places” include the physical as well as emotional and mental and spiritual. I remind you that there are those women who have wanted and were not able to have children. Women who had children they didn’t want. Women who had children they wanted but couldn’t care for. Women who had children who predeceased them. For example, Ann Jarvis herself bore between eleven and thirteen children over the course of seventeen years. Of these children, only four survived to adulthood. Her intention was NOT commercial greeting cards and color-coded carnations! Her concerns were sanitation to prevent infant death from childhood diseases and healing, clothing, feeding and caring for wounded soldiers from BOTH sides of the Civil War. Her concerns seem to be way more like those of people today – both men and women – who advocate, against great odds, for UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE – to address epidemic health crises! “Mothering” understood as “ministering” to needs, and advocating for the poor and understanding SCIENCE’S relationship to HEALTH – as opposed to gestation and the biological function of females – is what, I believe, “Mother’s Day” was originally intended to celebrate and encourage. Now that does coincide with the Gospel!
Another challenge we faced yesterday was the problematic text from John 14, in which Jesus says to Thomas: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I am aware that this text bothers many folks, including myself. It appears to be the slogan of an empire: unless you agree with “our understanding” of who Jesus is, you are not Christian! Surely, Jesus never said those words! I do believe that the early church put those words in Jesus’ mouth to authenticate itself and enlisted adherents. That’s just my guess. But what I do believe this text might say to us is that “Christianity” may be more about Jesus’ understanding of what God believes about us than our understanding of what the church says about Jesus!
I came to that conclusion by suggesting that this text might be useful for those who find it difficult if we were to adjust the translation. I suggested that we might simply re-translate the first person singular nominative pronoun “I” as a first person singular possessive pronoun “mine.” That would render the text something like: “Mine [or my Way] is the way and the truth and the life. No one “gets” to the Father except this way!” Now, I can live with that. Could there possibly be any other way to God than truth and life? That was Jesus’ way. And I really don’t believe that anything less that truth and light and life and love are Godly. Do you?
A little bit further on, in the very same pericope [how’s that for a fancy church word, meaning the Scriptural ‘clipping for the day’], we read that Jesus said to Philip: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” Now I find that really helpful. Apparently someone knew – early on in the life of the church – that there was going to be a problem with what the church was coming to believe about Jesus. And somehow, the voice of Jesus seems to sneak through the chatter of the church to speak the truth again, clearly and plainly. Here, Jesus himself essentially says: No matter what you believe about me – believe what you SEE ME DOING. Believe what you see in HOW I LIVE MY LIFE. Then, who cares what you ‘say or think’ about me. If you follow me and do what I do in loving service to others, it absolutely WILL NOT MATTER what you think, or say, or confess about me. You will be engaged in doing GOD’S WORK and therefore you will be showing the world what GOD THINKS about you and all of your brothers and sisters in the world. That seems to be a good enough definition of CHRISTIANITY for Jesus; and I suppose if it’s good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us!
So then, here’s the question: “How do we say what we believe about Jesus in what we do as opposed to what we say?”
Bless you, each and every one.
Zoom service for May 11, 2020, the 5th Sunday of Easter links, part I and II:
Our worship service via Zoom from Sunday, May 3, 2020. 4th Sunday of Easter can be viewed here:
Bishop Kevin’s May 3 Sermon at the Cathedral
THOUGHTS FROM OUR PRIEST-IN-CHARGE:
2 May 2020
My dear people,
I know there are lots of people who go camping in the out-of-doors. I have very fond memories of working nine wonderful summers at three Lutheran church youth camps, at Shawnee-on-the-Delaware. Those properties are all now within the Delaware National Recreational Area. Those camping programs have long since moved to Bear Creek, near Wilkes-Barre. I have often wondered about the “attraction” of camping. Certainly, in those days, at least, some of the “attraction” of camping had to do with “doing without.” Doing without a very comfortable bed. Doing without a fully-equipped kitchen. Doing without electricity and central heating and air conditioning. Doing without communication: ‘phone, radio, TV. And that was in the days before cell ‘phones. We slept outside, or in rough cabins. When we did not cook out of doors we ate in a barn which had been converted into a mess hall. We hiked. We lit fires and used flashlights – or found our way in the dark. And in reverting to – and imagining – earlier times and ways of doing things, we “endured” the charming inconveniences of camp life and learned from them. In “doing without” together, we had UNMITIGATED FUN and forged LIFETIME RELATIONSHIPS with folks we had never met before.
Since then, I have perceived that things have changed in camping. More recently, as I have bicycled through Promised Land State Park, I have mused at the campers there, and all the accoutrements they brought with them: comfortable beds, fully-equipped kitchens, indoor plumbing, satellite dish TV, cell ‘phones, microwave ovens, all terrain vehicles, etc. I can only suppose that they too are having fun, but certainly with very few inconveniences, by comparison with my youthful camping experiences. My guess is, that despite the fact that they are camping, by “doing with” and taking every imaginable comfort along, they may not be having the same kind of fun we had by “doing without” and learning how to deal with and accommodate our lives to our more primitive situation. To me, that was a major piece of the camping experience and a source of great pleasure and fun, and, after the fact, even a source of some pride. We did it!
That, of course, brings me to today and our on-going situation in responding to the COVID-19 virus. We are, at the moment – and for VERY GOOD REASON – having to “do without.” We are having to do without a great deal of that which has been convenient and comfortable for us. We are being challenged for a longer time than our patience wants to endure. And yet, I am somehow certain, that just as my experiences at those camps at Shawnee-On-The-Delaware were INCONVENIENT, they were also PRODUCTIVE and CONSTRUCTIVE times in which I learned much about myself and others and during which my future work in the church was richly fertilized. My hope and prayer for us at this time is that this season of “doing without” – as were those nine summers I spent “doing without” at Camps Ministerium, Miller and Hagan – will be for us an instructive, productive, enriching and life-enhancing time, despite, and maybe even because of, “doing without.”
Being in the out-of-doors and in the wilderness is being in God’s garden just as much as being in the highly managed (and some might even say ‘tortured’) highly patterned and parterred Luxembourg Gardens in Paris!
The gardens – the campsites – the wildernesses – in which we live and move and have our being ALL belong to GOD. We believe, teach and confess that God chooses to meet us in whatever garden we find ourselves and wherever and whenever that may be. Yes, She does, ‘walk with me and talk with me’ in the garden! But never is God mine alone. His are the gardens – all of them. Hers are the people in those gardens: all of us. His is the presence with us “at all times and in all places.” We are firmly convinced that we are never – ever – alone in the garden. God is surely with us right here, right now, in this season!
We always referred to our time at camp as a “season.” Hers too is this “season” in which we now find ourselves. We hear and believe again what Jesus says in “The Great Commission” in Matthew’s Gospel: “And lo, I am with you always.” Even unto the end of this ‘season’ and into the next.
When I asked how he was doing during this crisis, James’ nephew, who is out of work in London said: “Uncle, Ron, I am getting ready for my next season of blessings.” Let’s join him in that, here and now, in God’s rich garden of blessings.
Bless you, Fr. Ron
May 2, 2020
My dear people,
In addition to the Prayers of the People which came from the Lutheran World Federation and which we used during yesterday’s liturgy, I want to share with you the prayer I offered at the conclusion of our service. I read it from a 1761 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. Bibliophiles will be interested to know that that copy was printed at Cambridge by the famous 18th century type designer John Baskerville.
From the service for the Visitation of the Sick, I used the following prayer, adjusting the pronouns to plural, for our use. The old-fashioned use of what looks to us like the letter ‘f’ for the letter ’s’ when printed within words is retained here. Those are not typos!
O Blessed Lord, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comforts; We beseech thee, look down in pity and compassion upon us thy afflicted servants. Thou writeſt bitter things againſt us, and makeſt us to possess our former iniquities; thy wrath lieth hard upon us, and our souls are full of trouble: But, O merciful God, who haſt written thy holy Word for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of thy holy Scriptures, might have hope; give us a right underſtanding of ourselves, and of thy threats and promises; that we may neither caſt away our confidence in thee, nor place it any where but in thee. Give us ſtrength againſt all our temptations, and heal all our diſtempers. Break not the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. Shut not up thy tender mercies in displeasure; but make us to hear of joy and gladness, that the bones which thou haſt broken may rejoice. Deliver us from fear of the enemy, and lift up the light of thy countenance upon us, and give us peace, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Chriſt our Lord. Amen.
Although we may disagree with some of the ‘ideas’ about the nature of God in this ancient prayer, there is much in it that is good and beautiful. I commend it to your use in these unusual times, in which the entire world is either ill or threatened with illness and death.
Bless you, Fr. Ron
Please enjoy our worship service from April 19, 2020:
The Second Sunday of Easter – 19 April 2020
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. A-men.
For the very same reasons that the Johannine account of the raising of Lazarus disturbed me a couple of weeks ago – and for that matter, the Easter accounts of the empty tomb, last week – this text does too. Quite simply put: I, just as Thomas did, doubt! I want empirical evidence. I want to see in order to believe. I want to touch that resurrected erstwhile corpse which still bears the wounds of crucifixion. Despite the risen Savior’s admonition, often reported in Latin as “Noli me tangere” or “Do not touch (or do not cling to) me,” recorded in John 20:17, I want to ‘touch and see,’ rather than simply to believe, without the use of my senses. That seems sense-less to me! What is empirical evidence all about anyway? And Jesus’ advice to un-bind Lazarus and “let him go” prefigures this statement from the risen Christ to “let him go!”
My mothers advice to me as a child: “Don’t touch that. It’s not yours. You might break it!” Touching and breaking things makes them ours! MERCHANTS’ SIGNS: “YOU BREAK IT. YOU BOUGHT IT!”
“Right on, Thomas. I’m with you! And yet, even you, get a second chance. Jesus comes back – and suspending the natural orders of matter, time and space – appears to the disciples, including you – in that locked room, and invites you personally to see, touch, and believe. I would find that same opportunity very helpful indeed. I’m sure everyone else here, in the 21st century, would too.”
But, my friends, as you and I both know, that’s NOT going to happen. Seeing and touching Jesus, in order to believe, is – for us – NOT an option. I’m sorry about that. And quite frankly, I feel put out and a bit cheated by that reality.
So, what’s left for us to do? We have exercised our first option. We have read John’s report literally: as if it were ‘historically’ factual, if not scientifically improbable. As you know by now, I have a lot of trouble with that. So, I am left to struggle with these texts for meanings which I believe to be there but missed by me, if I simply read them cursively.
I have a growing suspicion, that when the disciples were locked in that room out of fear — fear of their own kind, fear of their own tradition, fear of the challenge of the Gospel for which Jesus gave his life and for which theirs might be sacrificed too — that they looked at each other — a rag-tag, grief-stricken pack of traitors, all of whom denied and abandoned their Lord — and saw the Christ of the Gospel em-bodied in themselves. THEY WERE FINISHED. They sensed that if the message and work of sharing the unmitigated love of God for all of Her children were to continue, it was, finally and unequivocally, up to them : they THEMSELVES. They, in fact, constituted the wounded, broken, crucified and now rising body of Christ himself. Together, I believe, they experienced what psychologists today refer to as an “A-ha moment” or what the advertising moguls have coined a “V-8 Moment!” In a moment of extraordinary clarity, they came to understand that no matter how beaten down, defeated, and unlikely their chances of success were – that if the Gospel were to live on, it required a body. Heretofore, the only body they knew who did that was Jesus. So they knew that now it was up to them to re-constitute that body – they had to re-in-CORPOR-ate Christ. And if they did not give their bodies to become the Christ – as Mary gave hers at the Nativity – then the battle would have been lost. Then, Jesus’ life-giving work would have failed. Then, evil would have won.
But not so! Locked up (or down!) together, they realized who they had become and were becoming. It is here where I really begin to enjoy this text because I believe it shows us the birth of the church – and the re-birth or resurrection of the ‘Body of Christ’ in the body of the church – long before Pentecost, when we acknowledge and celebrate the eventual descent of the Holy Spirit upon the early church.
So, left in the middle of their grief – either with the dead or apparently-missing body of Jesus – the church begins to grasp, very early on, that what had become so important to them [the Divine] came to them in what was so common and ordinary to them [the flesh]. They all knew that which was Divine gave them life – and they wanted to live. They knew that a body had been killed. But, they were also learning that THE BODY – their corporate body – did not have to die with that single body, but could live on as THE BODY and that The Very Body of Christ which gave them what they needed to live life abundantly and whose TRUTH was ETERNAL. In that way The Body of Christ could indeed rise from the dead, could indeed live on and could indeed proclaim the Good News, if they allowed themselves and their very own bodies to be grafted into the business of living out the Eternal Truth shown to them by Jesus and believed by them now, ever more strongly!
Christ could be risen. Christ would be risen. Christ was risen. And now friends, it is up to us! The proclamation must be made by us – or the truth will not be known. The world – with Thomas and with me and with you – wants to see, and touch, and feel. The world wants to put its fingers in the holes in His hands and thrust their hands into His side, in order to believe! And, why not? So, just as it was with Thomas, we return again and again to the enclave of the Christian Community to find there the PROOF – the absolute EMPIRICAL PROOF that CHRIST IS RISEN bodily! HE IS RISEN INDEED – in you, in me, in the church whenever and wherever the truth is told, the Gospel proclaimed and our physical bodies are used together to raise Christ from the dead to live again in this world and eternity.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Our Easter Sunday Sermon may be heard here: