Monday, July 21, 2014

Pray for the Middle East

In light of all that is happening in Iraq, Syria, and Israel/Palestine, a prayer I first saw from Diana Butler Bass:

- Posted using BlogPress from Rev. Kurt's iPhone!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Remembering MH 17

Gracious God, look in mercy on all to whom great sorrow has come. Console and protect those who have lost loved ones. Strengthen those who minister to the grieving. Give your light in darkness to all who are near to despair, and assure them that you hold all souls in life. Amen. [ACNS]

Loving God, comfort and sustain the families and friends of those who were aboard flight MH 17. Help them and us to know and feel that bidden or unbidden you are always with us, and that no life on Earth is apart from your loving presence. Amen.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

July 6 Sermon

Kids say the darn’dest things.

I remember the Bill Cosby version of the late 1990s, some of you might remember Art Linkletter who used this program both on his radio show and then on his TV series from the 1940s to the late 1960s. In response to a question, a young child would respond with some type of cute response. We would laugh. Kids say the darn’dest things.

In our Gospel today, Jesus reminds us that kids have a faith and often see things, understand things, that us adults miss or have forgotten. Sometimes what we need to hear, is what a child has to offer us.
Two years ago, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side. A month after the stroke, all the senator could do was lie in bed - he couldn't swallow, he couldn't sit up, he couldn't move. The senator was devastated. Among the many get-well cards and letters Senator Kirk received was this:

Dear Senator Kirk,

My name is Jackson Cunningham. I live in Oakwood, Illinois, and I am nine years old. Last year on February 19, 2011, I had a stroke. I was a healthy kid. [Then] I couldn't move a muscle on my left side. After a month in the hospital, I went to RIC [Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago]. After the first two days they took away my crutches and I have been walking since then. A lot of therapy helped . . . This past fall, I started school again. I go for half a day. I am still doing therapy on my left side. I can talk fine . . . I wanted to wish you good luck. Here's some advice: Do not give up on yourself. All the hard work is worth it. They make you work hard [in rehab] and you get lots of things back fast.


Jackson Cunningham

Jackson's letter was the beginning of a fast friendship that continues to this day. They regularly exchange letters, sharing their passions for Legos, baseball and video games, as well as keeping each other updated on their individual progress and cheering each other on. They have also gotten together several times in Chicago and Washington. Senator Kirk and Jackson have also appeared together at various events to raise awareness about strokes and the resources available to help the victims of strokes and their families.

Before his stroke, the 54-year-old senator described himself as a "pessimist," "a half-glass-empty kind of guy." But no more. "Here I was," Senator Kirk writes, "a grown man and a senator of Illinois, getting advice from a young boy I had never met. But his words were exactly what I needed. He gave me such strength . . . Jackson showed me how he could run, and I immediately felt inspired. It made me believe that one day, I would run again too.

"As for my recovery, it came just as Jackson said it would. After a year of intense therapy, I climbed to the top of the Capitol and returned to work on January 3, 2013. With every step I took, I thought of Jackson and his strength. He helped me climb those steps that day." [People, September 30, 2013; Reader's Digest, May 2014.]
Kids say the darn’dest things.

When Christ calls his disciples to embrace the simple faith of "little ones," he is not saying that we should be children. Christ is calling us, instead, to embrace a faith that is centered in the "simple" but profound love, compassion and hope of God. Which we as adults often forget and kids do not. In Jackson's reaching out, Senator Kirk comes to see the possibilities for healing and purpose in his life despite his illness. May the "wise and learned" among us embrace the spirit of generosity and directness of "little ones" just like Jackson Cunningham.

And then Jesus takes it a step further and invites us to participate in, that easy yoke he has, for all of us to take that light burden on and share it with others. Our challenge is to live out of such love in our lives that the wisdom we have from Jesus is vindicated by the deeds that we do.

One of the masters of Zen Buddhism is a priest named Tetsugen Doko, who was the first to translate the holy books of his faith, the Sutras, into Japanese.

In the 17th Century, the priest sought to print several thousand copies of the books in order to make the texts of his religion available to everyone. He traveled the length and breadth of Japan to raise the money for the printing. Rich and poor alike donated to the project. The priest expressed equal gratitude to each donor, whether their gift amounted to hundreds of pieces of gold or a few pennies.

After ten long years, Tetsugen had enough money for the printing. But just as the making of the holy books was about to begin, the river Uji overflowed its banks, leaving thousands of people without food and shelter. The priest halted the project immediately and used all of the money he worked so hard to raise to help the hungry and homeless.

Then Tetsugen began the work of raising the funds all over again. It took another ten years of travel and begging before he collected the money he needed to publish the holy book. But an epidemic spread across the country. Again the priest gave away all he had collected to care the sick, the suffering and dying.

A third time Tetsugen set out on his travels and, twenty years later, his dream of having the holy books printed in Japanese was finally realized. The printing blocks that produced the first edition are on display at the Obaku Monastery in Kyoto. The Japanese tell their children that Tetsugen actually published three editions of the holy book -- the first two are invisible but far superior to the third. [from wikipedia & connections]
Wisdom is vindicated by our deeds.

Jesus invites us to embrace the joyful sense of fulfillment that can only be realized by “learning” from his example of humility and gratitude, to take on his ‘yoke’ of humble, joyful service to one another as we journey together to the dwelling place of God. Like Tetsugen, we proclaim the Gospel most effectively and meaningfully not in words but in the deeds of generosity and compassion we extend to others.

May our work for justice, for love, for hope, our dedication to reconciliation & forgiveness, our welcome to all who approach our tables, make the word of God, a living reality in our own time and place for the youngest among us to the oldest. Amen.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Responding to Texas Border Crisis

Episcopal Relief & Development is assisting St. John's Episcopal Church in McAllen, Texas, as the congregation provides relief to hundreds of Central American migrants who crossed through Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. A sudden influx of people, including thousands of unaccompanied minors, has overwhelmed Border Patrol and created a humanitarian crisis in towns along the US-Mexico border -- including McAllen, which sits directly opposite the town of Reynosa, Mexico, about 70 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico.

Central American migrants who surrender to Border Patrol and request asylum upon entering the US are entitled to a hearing, but because of the high volume of requests, hearing dates may be up to two years away.  Unaccompanied minors cannot be released on their own, so they are being transferred to detention centers and emergency shelters to await placement in foster homes or other custodial situations.  Adults or families with relatives in the US can receive bus tickets to go and join them, but the capacity of the bus lines is limited, and volunteers in McAllen report that wait times for seats can be up to two days.

St. John's Episcopal Church, part of the McAllen Faith Community for Disaster Recovery -- a group of churches and government agencies that have come together to respond to the crisis -- is assisting with meals and laundry for individuals and families sheltering inside and in tents around the town's Sacred Heart Catholic Church.  St. John's is also providing approximately 100 nutrition and hygiene packs per day to accompany those traveling via bus to stay with their US-based relatives.

"These people have traveled long distances with little to eat and have nothing when they arrive and surrender," wrote the Rev. Nancy Springer, Assistant Rector at St. John's.  "Local churches in McAllen are working to provide them with a hot meal, a shower, and a place to rest."

Regarding St. John's involvement, Springer added, "We have a large parish that can accommodate teams putting together hygiene and nutrition packs... Lots of parishioners [are] willing to volunteer to build the packs, prepare and serve meals, and take linens to launder." An estimated 200 people per day arrive in McAllen alone.  The New York Times reports: "Since October, the Border Patrol has apprehended more than 160,000 undocumented immigrants in its Rio Grande Valley sector and more than 33,500 unaccompanied minors in Texas."

Misinformation about US laws governing amnesty and asylum has contributed to the crisis.  Some migrant families have reportedly told authorities they came because DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) would allow them to stay, but this law only defers deportation for children brought to the United States before June 15, 2012.  In addition to requesting an anticipated $2 billion in funds from Congress to deal with the crisis, the Obama administration has stated they are working with Central American partners to promote accurate information about laws and processes pertaining to crossing the US border.  Episcopal Migration Ministries and Episcopal Relief & Development will be hosting a coordination call next week for border dioceses to share what needs they are seeing and what the Church is doing in each diocese.

"We know that a great hunger and capacity for this kind of work already exists in the Church and has been active for decades," said Katie Mears, Director of Episcopal Relief & Development's US Disaster Program.  "We look forward to hearing from these impacted dioceses about the needs and responses they are seeing, and we will continue to keep all those impacted – both those arriving on our borders and those caring for them – in our prayers."   To enable Episcopal Relief & Development to respond to the current crisis in McAllen and other natural and human-caused disasters in the United States, please donate to the US Disaster Fund at

Praying for America on July 4

Behold America by Rev. John Wallace Suter, 1964, adapted

Behold, O God, this our beloved country:

The old, the young, the little children; rich and poor, ignorant and learned;
The laborers and mangers of industry; workers in factory and mine, office and home;

A people of many traditions, many colors, divergent hopes and fears.

Behold America:

Its mountains and plains, rivers and forests, its inland seas and shining coasts.

Upon this land, upon these people, pour down thy life-giving Spirit of nobility and truth.

Where there is strife, bring cooperation for the common good;

Where greed and envy abound, control us with that divine perspective which sees in every person the dignity of a growing soul;

Where interests clash, set free in us the higher impulse which seeks first thy righteous kingdom, where we may enjoy the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Behold, O Father, this our Nation.
Bless it, make it strong with thy strength, and fill it with the beauty of holiness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

- Posted using BlogPress from Rev. Kurt's iPhone!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Sonnets for Peter & Paul

as used at our outdoor service on Sunday.
First Reading: A Sonnet for St. Peter (by Malcolm Guite)
Impulsive master of misunderstanding
You comfort me with all your big mistakes;
Jumping the ship before you make the landing,
Placing the bet before you know the stakes.
I love the way you step out without knowing,
The way you sometimes speak before you think,
The way your broken faith is always growing,
The way he holds you even when you sink.
Born to a world that always tried to shame you,
Your shaky ego vulnerable to shame,
I love the way that Jesus chose to name you,
Before you knew how to deserve that name.
And in the end your Savior let you prove
That each denial is undone by love.

Second Reading: Apostle! - a sonnet for St. Paul (by Malcolm Guite)
An enemy whom God has made a friend,
A righteous man discounting righteousness,
Last to believe and first for God to send,
He found the fountain in the wilderness.
Thrown to the ground and raised at the same moment,
A prisoner who set his captors free,
A naked man with love his only garment,
A blinded man who helped the world to see,
A Jew who had been perfect in the law,
Blesses the flesh of every other race
And helps them see what the apostles saw;
The glory of the lord in Jesus’ face.
Strong in his weakness, joyful in his pains,
And bound by love, he freed us from our chains.

Both sonnets found in "Sounding the Seasons by Malcom Guite"

Friday, June 27, 2014

June 22 Sermon

You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them. ~ Desmond Tutu
I have always liked his quote, reminding us of our interdependence in our families, and the gifts we are to them as they are to us. But of course, sometimes families don’t get along…
“Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, "Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac." The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.” (Genesis 21)
But God would not forget Hagar and Ishmael – when all seemed lost, God heard the cries – God provided water – and we are told “God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness…”

The religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all trace their roots through Abraham, Islam through the son Ishmael, Christianity & Judaism through the son Isaac. This family tree has born lots of hatred and lots of violence against the others on the tree, a rivalry from the beginning.

Currently we are watching Iraq tear itself apart as different factions within the family of Islam fight for control; Sunni & Shiite, with many other groups taking advantage of the chaos, like al-Qaeda. “The two Islamic sects split in the seventh century in a dispute over the true heir of Islam's Prophet Mohammed. In most Islamic countries other than Iran, Sunnis have long enjoyed political prominence and economic advantage over the Shiite.” (from USA Today)

Watching the unrest and fighting in the Middle East has reminded me that our Christian family has also had a lot of fighting through the years, much of it religious and political just like Iraq today. Who of us can forget Northern Ireland and the fight between Protestants and Roman Catholics?
You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them. ~ Desmond Tutu
Too often we forget this saying. We see family as a burden, especially when we disagree. On a large scale, such family disputes can often evolve into civil wars. But families can also help patch up such disagreements. Ann and I saw this in Mozambique, where after a terrible civil war, a framework for peace has been reached with Bishop Sengulane & others helping to bring the different tribal families back together even as great disagreements still exist.

But Jesus in the Gospel for today, seems to say that following him, will bring conflict with our families. Jesus said, “"For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household… whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

The cost of discipleship, of following him, may lead us to be at odds in our own family. What might that look like? And what might Jesus be calling us to do even as he tells us not to be afraid?
Blonde and giggly, Marla Ruzicka was easy to dismiss. When she first arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan at Christmas in 2001, Afghan guards and western reporters called her "Bubbles." She was easy to underestimate: She gushed and fawned and giggled; she loved to party; everything was "cool" or "awesome." But for four years - first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, Marla Ruzicka was a one-woman human rights organization for she believed “that governments had a legal and moral responsibility to compensate the families of civilians killed or injured in military conflicts.” She then started her own NGO, Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict.

Marla's social consciousness developed early: As a teenager in northern California she was suspended for leading a school protest against the Gulf War, much to the chagrin of her family. At her high school graduation, someone shouted as she received her diploma, "Marla, go out and save the world!" And Marla proceeded to do just that.

Fiercely anti-war, Marla was savvy enough to understand that she probably couldn't stop the conflict but she could help the victims. Behind her party-girl personality was a fierce determination and astonishing compassion. With a few dollars she scrambled to raise, she built an impressive network of contacts among aid workers, reporters and U.S. military officers. She located Iraqi civilians who were killed or injured, documented their stories and then secured compensation for them or their surviving families. She cajoled American reporters to write about the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. She organized a corps of volunteers to visit hospitals and compile the first credible list of people killed or injured. "A number is important," Marla wrote, "not only to quantify the cost of the war but, to me, each number is also a story of someone whose hopes, dreams and potential will never be realized and who left behind a family."

Back home, Marla mobilized relatives and friends to successfully lobby Congress to provide some $22 million in compensation for the civilian victims of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Everyone - from cynical freelance reporters to battle weary U.S. Army officers - came to know and respect her. For many Iraqis, Marla was the face of American compassion.

On April 16, 2005, Marla was traveling with her Iraqi translator, Faiz Ali Salim, along Baghdad's Airport Road to visit Iraqi families who had lost relatives in the violence. Her car was caught between a suicide car bomber and a U.S. military convoy. Marla Ruzicka's last words as they pulled her body from the flames were, "I'm alive." (from the Guardian & Wikipedia)
"You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them." ~ Desmond Tutu

Marla Ruzicka reminds us of the cost of seeing the needs of the whole human family. Her short life, so packed with adventure and risk, is proof that belief and resolve can accomplish great things. Jesus calls every one of us to take on the work of discipleship: to proclaim God's love in our midst, to be vehicles of God's mercy and justice for all his family. May we see the gift of family, in our home and in our world, and be that gift to all. Amen.