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February 1, 2019, 12:00 AM

Today, say yest to God


As we come into the new year and continue to assess who and where we are as a church, we might want to renew our resolve in navigating the uncharted waters of being the church the twenty-first century, particularly as God has called us in the tradition of the Episcopal Church. Due mostly to moves and death (and a couple of folks who submitted their membership information, but never became active), but with almost no new members to offset the losses, the parish membership roll dropped by 10 to a total membership of 156 people (73 households). The average Sunday attendance (ASA) stayed basically the same as last year at 66 (up from 64).

 

The past couple of years, we ended up somewhat better than we had expected. In 2016, we ended in the black; in 2017, we received enough pledges to present a balanced budget. Not so on either count for 2018, which does not bode well for 2019 (or thereafter, for that matter). Our financial concerns are not what the mission of the Church is about, but they are an indicator of the congregation’s commitment to the ministry of the Church and our ability to be effective in our mission. That is why it is increasingly vital to understand how imperative it is that we redouble our efforts of proclaiming the good news of God in Christ - evangelism by any other word. But not evangelism as it is currently understood with all its negative connotations, which is, in actuality, not evangelism, but “spiritual malpractice,” as my colleague Whitney Rice has termed it. Rather, it is evangelism as it is meant to be; not even redefining evangelism, but reclaiming its original intent: good news.

 

Do not get me wrong, there are many doing excellent work of ministry, but when it comes to evangelism as an expressed aspect of mission, not only is there apathy, a lack of will, there is often antipathy, an aversion, to doing what is becoming our only option if we are going to keep the covenant promises of our baptism. I cannot just snap my fingers and make droves of people walk through our doors and I cannot be evangelistic by myself. It takes the Church - and by “the Church” I mean every person baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ - to stem the tide; to, as I have said through 2018, enculturate a process of inviting, welcoming, and connecting into the way each one of us thinks, into the way we, as a community of faith, live.

 

I noted in a sermon a few weeks ago that God did not have to breathe into existence what we call creation; did not have to speak humanity into existence or choose to be in relationship with that creation, but God said yes. Abraham could have said no when God told him to sacrifice his only son Isaac, but love prevailed even in the midst of shock and sorrow because Abraham said yes to God. Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah: though the prophets protested mightily at their calling, there was no turning back and God’s word was revealed to the Hebrew people (later Israel) because they said yes to God. Zechariah initially said no to God and was struck mute, until he said yes to God and the baptizer, John, soon began his life’s journey preparing the way for the Lamb of God. Like Sarai before her, who laughed when told that she, in her old age, would bear a child, Elizabeth was incredulous that she, who was said to be barren, would bear the prophet who would go before the Lord to prepare his way. Mary, too, could scarcely comprehend what the angel was saying: how could she, who was a virgin, be with child? But again, Mary’s response - “Let it be with me according to your word,” her yes to God - opened the way of love for us all. And it was not rulers or scriptural scholars or religious authorities who followed the light of that way, but outcasts and foreigners - the shepherds and wise men - who saw the glory of the highest heaven at Jesus’ birth because they said yes to God. Even Jesus, as he sweat like great drops of blood in Gethsemane, said yes to God; the yes that the disciples, in their often muddled confusion, said to God. Paul breathed murderous no until he said yes to God and his eyes beheld the glory of the highest heaven.

 

As our membership and pledge numbers strongly indicate, if we continue to say no to what is becoming our only option if we are going to keep our Baptismal Covenant promise to proclaim the good news of God in Christ, we are potentially heading into a critical time in the life of this parish. In 2019, glorify and praise God for the yes that God said to us; the yes that our patriarchs and prophets, Elizabeth and Mary, the outcast shepherds and foreigners in their wisdom said to God; the yes that Jesus and the disciples and Paul said to God. This year, today, say yes to God.

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January 1, 2019, 12:00 AM

Be the Light You Want to See


Epiphany, which we celebrate on January 6, marking the beginning of the Epiphany season (until Lent beginning with Ash Wednesday in March), is a day and season in which we emphasize light, or more specifically, Jesus, the light of the world. As the beginning of John’s gospel tells us: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. In him was life and that life was the light of all humankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.

 

A few favored quotes might shed a little light on the subject:


Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

~Chinese Proverb


Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space. It does not seek anything in return; it asks not whether you are friend or foe. It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished.

~Michael Strassfeld

 

The hero is the one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by. The saint is the man who walks through the dark paths of the world, himself a light.

~Felix Adler


An age is called "dark," not because the light fails to shine but because people refuse to see it.

~James Michener

 

Not only do you become what you think about, but the world also becomes what you think about. Those who think that the world is a dark place are blind to the light that might illuminate their lives. Those who see the light of the world view the dark spots as merely potential light.

~Wayne W. Dyer

 

Ring the bells that can still ring. Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

~Leonard Cohen

 

Part of my daily prayer is to “be the light you want to see”. Like the prayer attributed to St. Frances (see BCP p. 833), …where there is darkness, let us sow light, where do you see darkness and where light - in the world, in yourself? In reflecting the light of Jesus, in being the light you want to see, where someone is dehumanized, treat them as if they, just like you, are made in the image and likeness of God; treat them as if they are Christ, himself. Where there is the darkness of contempt, be the light of compassion. Where there is the darkness of isolation, be the light of companionship and community. Where there is the darkness of hate and cruelty, be the light of the love of Christ. On the day and in the season in which we emphasize Jesus, the light of the world, be the light you want to see: the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness will not overcome.

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December 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

Be incarnational in our work for God’s kingdom.


This month, we once again prepare ourselves for the incarnation of our Lord at his most blessed birth in Bethlehem on that holy night. It is a story of intense mystery, challenge to social mores, unfathomable trust, an arduous journey, rejection, and ultimately a revelation in a most unexpected way. Mary scarcely was able to comprehend what the angel had foretold her; a young and pregnant unmarried girl in her culture was cause for ostracization; Joseph planned on ending the betrothal, but responded beyond what most would do to divine directive to persevere; the trip to Bethlehem was not especially easy, made all the more difficult for one in Mary’s condition, only to find no decent place to stay. And then, it happened…the most monumental event in human history…the incarnation, God born in human flesh, revealed not to the rich and powerful, but to foreigners and reviled outcasts (the wise men and shepherds).

 

Through the retelling of the story, we celebrate the incarnation each year, but the best way to tell the story is with our very lives, to be incarnational in our ministry. By that I mean that our faith needs expression if it is to have as much meaning as this Christmas story begs - in mystery and trust, in journey and revelation. As a high school friend encourages her clients in her life-coaching business, we need to “make the connection between your intentions and your actions which will then allow you to find the freedom and space to do the things that really matter.” A story of intense mystery, challenge to social mores, unfathomable trust, an arduous journey, rejection, and ultimately a revelation in a most unexpected way, we need not to just come and receive the sacrament whenever we come for worship, but to actually be sacramental - the outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace. This month, as we once again prepare ourselves for the incarnation of our Lord at his most blessed birth in Bethlehem on that holy night, now more than ever, this ol’ world needs us to be incarnational in our work for God’s kingdom this side of heaven.




October 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

The Church Acting Like the Church is Supposed to Act.


I mentioned in a sermon last month, but it bears repeating: Probably the single most gratifying aspect of being the rector of this church is seeing the Church acting like the Church is supposed to act. Recalling that the word “gospel” literally means “good news,” there is so much to commend in the faithfulness of the members of Christ’s body in this church. From overflowing blue bins and meal preparation and service at Love Chapel to the FISH collection and Book Buddies, brothers and sisters in our community who experience want and need are fed, housed, clothed, and educated. Those whose health or struggles with mobility and transportation who would otherwise suffer increasing isolation are visited and extended the grace of the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. Some who have experienced disillusionment elsewhere or the pain of rejection find here a home. Grief is eased by the outpouring of love and support and the presence of compassionate followers of Christ Jesus. Examples abound of the people of this community of faith giving of themselves in serving at the altar and in regular worship or welcoming strangers or building up this body through fellowship and cooperative efforts with others of like mind; in formation of our adults, youth and children, in care for our sacred space and lots of little things that often go unnoticed but which provide the fodder for a vital community. I am grateful to all at St. Paul’s for the example of faithfulness that you demonstrate for the sake of the gospel - actually acting like the Church is supposed to act.

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September 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

Prayer: silence, smile, breathe, Presence [Ps 131.3], listen, be


I have always said that, for all the great work that we do to make God’s Kingdom come this side of the nearer presence of our Lord, if we are not first and foremost a worshipping community we might as well be a secular social service agency. Worship includes individual prayer. As a reminder as we come into the latter half of the year, here is one way that I punctuate my prayer, beginning and ending, through each of the four daily hours (setting a reminder alarm for each hour: morning: joy, noon: compassion, evening: gratitude (for the day), night: peace), in this order: silence: smile breathe, Presence, [Ps 131.3], listen, be.

 

  • silence: as in the primordial chaos (the pre-creation void, not frenzy); not the absence of sound, but the absence of noise
  • smile: literally releases endorphins and sets a grateful heart
  • breathe: ruach (Spirit, wind, breath) - even before God spoke, God breathed creation into existence; same ruach as at Pentecost
  • Presence: awareness of being in the Presence of God; not making God come to me, but being where God already is
  • morning and night, Ps 131.3: I still my soul and make it quiet…; intentionality
  • listening: now quieted in order to hear Divine Whispering
  • be: spoken prayer is good and necessary, but the deepest form of prayer is simply to be
  • then normal prayers for family, the Church, the world…
  • then again: silence, smile, breathe, Presence, [Ps 131.3], listen, be

 

You might have a different practice, maybe something similar. Either way, prayer: first and foremost.

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