Wednesday, January 16, 2019

January 16, 2019

Transformation begins with endings.” Peter L. Steinke, A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission and Hope, p. 59

The bishop has us clergy types reading this book and then, at various times and places throughout the diocese, we're going to get together and discuss it. Nothing is as constant as change, and we seem to be living in rapidly changing times – culturally, religiously, environmentally, technologically, and probably any otherally you can think of. So we're reading this book to see what we might learn about and how we might deal with the changing landscape in our particular situations.

It's not a bad book, and I've found some nuggets in there – like the one above.

One of the positive things about change is that it reminds us we are alive. If you are a living organism, you are changing. This can be exciting: we change from crawling to walking to driving; we change from dependent to independent; we change in many and varied ways throughout our lives. And sometimes that change can feel like Easter morning – new and revitalized and full of life.

But the thing we need to remember is that when one door opens, another closes. When we move to independence, we forgo our dependence. When we move into a new phase, the old part is often left behind. When we are resurrected, we must have necessarily died. To get to Easter you have to go through Good Friday.

Change can be new and exciting, but if we focus only on the new and exciting change, if we focus only on the resurrection, we miss both the opportunity and crucial need to mourn and say goodbye. This is true of both people and institutions. We do this with people at funerals and memorials services. Even though we know life is changed, not ended, we need to take time to mourn and say goodbye.

It's a little trickier with institutions like the church. The church is full of people who want things to stay the same for ever and ever, or to at least remain like the church of their memories. But the church is also full of people who age and change over time and with people who come and go. It is a living organism; which then makes change inevitable.

Change will happen. Resurrection will happen. But let's not forget the value of mourning and saying goodbye to what was lost or left behind. Because it may be only in our ability to say goodbye that allows us to move forward.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

January 9, 2019

Waaa Waaa Waaa

I belong to a variety of closed Facebook groups that are church focused. Two of them have discussions around the BCP, in particular around the rubrics and possible revision. One of them has discussions about the church in general, everything from liturgy to lay employees. One is dedicated to classical, creedal, Christian orthodoxy. And one of them is local, working to connect the clergy of the diocese.

When I first got connected to these groups, my initial thought was, “This will be fun and/or interesting since all of these people seem to have the same interests I do.”

That didn't last long as it turned out that most of the conversations descend rather quickly into a gripe-fest about everything wrong with the church and the people who inhabit it. They complain about clergy who break the rubrics. They complain about the people who wrote the rubrics. They complain about budgets that don't address what they see as important parts of the church. They complain about people who don't pledge. They complain about what people name their dogs. They complain about the people who complain about what people name their dogs (yes, really).

Waaa Waaa Waaa

It makes me wonder not only if there is anything good in the church, but why these people are even in the church at all.

Then I look at St. John's.

We have a variety of outreach programs. We have people who care about our liturgy. We have people whose volunteerism in many and varied ways make this place run. We have people who make working with the Vestry a joy. We have people who give of their time and talent, and do so joyfully. Things are not perfect, no place is, but the good far outweighs the bad.

When I read those posts, I can't help but wonder, “What would their job/parish/vestry/whatever look like if they spent as much time looking for and talking about the good as they do whining about what's wrong?”

The Epiphany season is upon us. Let us look for the good. Let us look for the light. Let us look for those God moments that can open our eyes and surprise us with joy. And instead of whining about what isn't right, let us joyfully proclaim what is good.

We are part of the church. Yea! Yea! Yea!


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

January 2, 2019

Happy New Year

While I greeted everyone at church with, “Happy New Year!” back on December 2nd as we moved into Advent and turned over the Church calendar to Year C, the rest of the world celebrated the arrival of the New Year on Monday evening/Tuesday morning. And whether you celebrated New Years by gathering downtown in the square to watch the donut drop, watched the apple or crystal ball drop at midnight, or lighted the first candle on the Advent wreath, a new year is here. And with that new year often comes new resolutions.

Those resolutions often revolve around being better in some way. A better diet. More exercise. Read more, watch TV less. Take a trip. I would be willing to bet that very few, if any, resolutions have to do with getting worse. But then again, watching the news certainly seems to indicate that some people are driven to do as much damage in the least amount of time as possible.

But let's stay positive here and go with the proposition that, generally speaking, people take this time of year to make resolutions that help them get better.

Joelene and I purchased a new-to-us elliptical exercise thingy. You know the drill – less impact, more calories, improved cardiovascular health. I'm considering selling 50/50 tickets at coffee hour to see how long it takes before that machine becomes an expensive clothes hanger. But we'll see.

I say that tongue-in-cheek, but there's a grain of truth to it. People start with good intentions but then those intentions begin to slip away as the tide of life slowly, but surely, rolls on.

Next Sunday, January 13, is the First Sunday after the Epiphany, and is marked as the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. This is one of the five appointed days listed as appropriate for baptisms or renewal of vows, and we will be renewing our baptismal vows at both services.

In a way our baptism is like a New Years resolution. We (or people on our behalf) resolve to be better people in the future. We promise to make positive changes that will help with our overall health and the health of the world around us. But like those exercise machine that eventually collect clothes and/or dust, or the gym memberships whose most frequent exercise involves transferring monthly fees to the gym, our baptismal vows also fall by the wayside.

This is why we renew our vows so often. We don't only do this once a year in a mad dash to make everything right overnight; we do it four or five times a year in order to remind us of what we resolved to do and, hopefully, help shape us into the type of person we want to be.

This year I resolve to continue in the fellowship and prayers. This year I resolve to resist evil. This year I resolve to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ. This year I resolve to love all persons as I love myself. This year I resolve to strive for justice.

And if I find those resolutions hanging on an unused exercise machine, I'll again remind myself of what I'm supposed to be doing on June 9.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

December 19, 2018

Advent III – Rejoice

This past Sunday was Gaudete Sunday, so named because the opening antiphon of the Mass began, “Gaudete in Domino semper,” that is, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

Advent, and the whole holiday season for that matter, can be difficult for people. There could be painful memories of family and/or friends who have died. Jobs could be scarce. Finances may be imperiled. Unexpected bills can suddenly appear. There are many reasons why this is a difficult time for so many people.

And yet, with all of those things going on, with the general busy-ness of the season as we prepare for Christmas and the coming of the Messiah, we are called to rejoice in the Lord. We are called to be joyful in the Lord.

This can seem to be problematic, though, because too often we have a tendency to equate rejoice and/or joy with being happy. I heard a sermon recently in which the preacher advocated that people “just get over it” as a way to work toward joy/happiness. But working to “just get over it” is simply a band-aid offered by some who are eager for others to get back to normal. The problem is that what's normal for one person may not be normal for another person.

So . . . back to joy and rejoicing. These two things are not about happiness. They are not about good feelings. It is something much deeper. I think the quote from Frederick Buechner sums it up best, “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world's greatest need.” When these two things meet, the process of restoration begins – restoration of yourself as well as restoration of the world around you.

Another way to look at it is to answer the question: Where is God calling you?

When we gather to worship God in the beauty of holiness, there is joy. When we welcome people as they are, respecting who they are, there is joy. When we gather for Community Cafe to serve food to our guests, there is joy. When we see a person's potential and encourage them to pursue it, there is joy.

When God is present in what we do and how we do it, there is joy. No, we may not always be happy, but if we are aligned with God, there will be joy. If we are looking to always be happy, we will probably be unhappy. But if we are looking to be joyful and to rejoice, then we need to spend time searching for that place where we and God meet. It will be in that meeting where we find joy, it will be in that meeting that we will rejoice, and it will be in that meeting where we begin to see God's kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, Rejoice!


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

December 12, 2018

Advent II – Peace

That's the word hanging from the Advent wreath this week.

It seems as if there is precious little peace in the world right now. Besides the usual wars, famines, natural disasters, and political turmoil that rage around us, there also seems to be the decidedly un-peaceful time of the Advent season as we make our preparations for the celebration of the Incarnation both at church and at home.

What is peace? Is it the absence of conflict, wars, and/or turmoil? Is it a place of quiet? Is it a place of equilibrium? Is it your bathtub?

Peace includes all of the above and more.

Sunday we heard from Baruch. In that reading he is looking forward to the restoration of Jerusalem and says that that city will receive the name, “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.” He also prophesies that those who have been taken away will return, and mountains and hills made low and the valleys filled up. In this return and in this leveling out, the people will experience peace.

In Luke we heard John proclaiming a baptism of repentance as John prepares for the coming of the Lord. He announces that every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. This is also a form of leveling out as the rough paths are made smooth and all flesh will see the salvation of God.

As I was thinking about this idea of peace and the leveling out, the idea of peace was more than an end to wars, famines, disasters, and turmoil of all kinds. Peace also has to do with how we experience God in our lives.

The Hebrew word Shalom, which is often translated as Peace, delves into this peaceful experience of God.

The root of Shalom is to be safe in mind, body, and/or estate. It gets at the idea of developing an inward sense of completeness and wholeness. Our peace, then, isn't dependent on outside forces (or the lack of them), but is completely dependent upon where God is in our lives – or maybe I should say, where we allow God to be in our lives.

Those mountains and hills that are to be brought low, and those valleys which are to be filled in, are more than making the road to Jerusalem smooth. They are more than the social-political-economic systems of which I preached about on Sunday. They also have to do with our inner turmoils.

As we meditate on the word Peace in this second week of Advent, there may be no better words to contemplate than those spoken at the end of the Rite I Communion service:

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his son Jesus Christ our Lord.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

December 5, 2018

Advent I – Hope

Advent has arrived, probably unnoticed by most of our society. While stores have been selling Christmas decorations for a month or two, and radio stations are beginning to slip Christmas music into their play lists, and cities are putting up holiday decorations and have had tree lighting ceremonies, the church calendar remains purple or blue and declares that we are in the season of Advent.

We are in the season of the already and not yet. It is the season of hopeful expectation. It is the season of learning to slow down in the midst of all the noise and activity. We prepare for the coming of Christ which has already happened in ancient Bethlehem. We prepare and hope for the future coming of Christ that has been promised. We try to find space to breathe when this time of year often takes our breath away.

Each Sunday of Advent has a theme attached to it which is usually attributed to one of the four virtues Jesus brings. When you are at church you can see a banner hanging from the Advent wreath naming the theme of the day; Advent I is Hope.

If you were at church this past Sunday you will recall that the gospel passage came from the apocalyptic portion of Luke (Chapter 21:5-38 if you're following along at home). “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations . . . When you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near . . . Be alert at all times . . .”

We only heard a portion of Chapter 21 on Sunday, but that portion, and all of the chapter, make it seem as if the end days are upon us. And in reading this chapter, we may hope to be removed from the trials and tribulations that are to come. We may hope to escape the devastating nature of those last days. We may hope that Jesus comes soon to clean up this mess. But that is less about hope and more of an escapist fantasy.

Are these the end times? As I've said more than once, it's always the end times for someone.

In the end times we hold to hope: hope for a better world; hope for things to come; hope for the kingdom of God to be revealed and fulfilled.

The kingdom of God has come near. This is not the time to hope for an escape or for our miraculous removal. Rather, this is the time to “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

In these end times of the already and not yet, remember that we have a role to play in the coming kingdom – that role is to continue in the fellowship, to persevere in resisting evil, to proclaim the Good News, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to strive for justice, to respect the dignity of every human being.

In other words, that role is to help instill hope.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

November 28, 2018

Thank you.

Last week on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I wrote about being at the HARC Thanksgiving service and, especially, the opening remarks by Buddhist monk, Temm Bikle and his litany of thanksgiving for things which we would not normally think as a places to give thanks.

This week on the Wednesday following Thanksgiving, I want to be more specific about things for which I am thankful.

I am thankful for having the opportunity to serve this amazing community of believers.
I am thankful for Mark and his skill and dedication to the overall liturgy and to the music program.
I am thankful for all those in the choir who give of their time and talent that helps make our worship the beautiful experience it is.
I am thankful for the acolytes and LEM's who allow the liturgy to flow seamlessly so that the congregation can worship without distraction.
I am thankful for Joyce and the altar guild who do all the hard, behind the scenes work in preparing for worship.
I am thankful for all those who participate in the liturgy, whether vested or not, who offer their thanks and praise as we worship God together.
I am thankful to the members of the Vestry who give of their time to do the business of the church.
I am thankful to the members of the Service and Outreach Commission who work to find ways to benefit the community around us.
I am thankful for all those who organize, prepare, serve, and clean up at Community Cafe.
I am thankful for difficult and lighthearted conversations that remind us we are all trying to do our level-headed best as we walk this journey.
I am thankful for Melonie's hard work in the office and everything she does, seen and unseen, that keeps us from being a paperwork disaster and, maybe, being arrested.
I am thankful to all those who work with our younger parishioners in so many ways.
I am thankful to all those who look for ways to be the face, hands, and feet of Christ in the world today.
I am thankful to Joelene and Cece who have put up with me and shaped me in so many ways.

I am thankful for where we have been, and hopeful for where we are going.

For all this and much more, I am thankful.