Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Of Love & Loss

I quoted some from an article written by Mark Gwin about his family's experience with a wildfire in TX in my sermon on Sunday.  His an excerpt from the beginning of his article:

This has been a long lesson in humility and hope. That it is not a story of futility and despair, I give thanks to my family, friends, coworkers and community, who have taken a devastating event and made it inspirational.

My family and I fled from our home on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 4, while a gentle dusting of ash fell and the sun glowed red overhead in the thick plume of smoke that covered the sky. Since that day I’ve known moments of grief, but have yet to be lost in it because in every instant I’ve been uplifted by the bravery and kindness of others.

My wife, whose office was destroyed by the Wilderness Ridge Fire in 2008, has wisdom born of experience, and I try to heed her words. "It's not about letting go, it’s about letting in."  Opening to the new world in which I find myself, I am starting to learn how dependent I am upon the kindness of others.
You can read the whole wonderful article here and his wonderful quote, "Human kindness is grace made flesh."

Our Red Doors

As some have noticed, we have painted all of our doors red (like most Episcopal Churches).  Why red?
"The red door tradition goes back to the beginnings of cathedral architecture in the Middle Ages. The color red, signifying the Blood of Christ, was painted on the north, south and east doors of a church. Such symbolism represented making the sign of the cross — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus the edifice was marked as a sanctuary, identified as a refuge and safety zone from physical or spiritual dangers. The red doors shut out evil. Supposedly an enemy could not pursue his victim across the sacred threshold. The red doors speak to the world of holy ground that exists inside those doors, space that has been purged and made clean by the Holy Spirit.

The red-door tradition continues even today in our Episcopal Church (and other churches) although its interpretation may have changed. Now the color red shines forth with the warmth of welcome. Now the color red gleams like fire, showing the light and presence of the Holy Spirit for all who enter into our parish."
Our doors are red to welcome everyone to a place of peace, refuge, sanctuary and salvation.

All are welcome at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church!

September 25 Sermon

Is the Lord among us or not?

It is a question that has been asked throughout the ages. Is God with us here at this moment?

In those good times, when our blessings seem abundant, we need to give thanks for all that we received and yet too often we forget to do this nor do we remember that God is with us.

In those bad times, when we struggle with what is before us, we need to pray for strength to overcome even when wonder why God is silent or seems so far away because God is still with us.

For the Israelites, they thirsted on their journey. They were given quail and manna by God but now they had no water in the wilderness. They were an angry bunch and Moses got the brunt of it.

Instead of remembering the good times, instead of remembering that God fed them, instead of remembering God’s faithfulness, they quarreled and wondered if the God of their ancestors was still with them.

Again, God was faithful, and when Moses struck the rock, the people recieved water.

The God who liberated them from slavery in Egypt, the God who gave them manna and quail to fill their appetites, provides water to quench their thirst.

Indeed, the Lord was with them on their journey through the wilderness.
This has been a long lesson in humility and hope, wrote Mark Gwin just a few days ago. It is not a story of futility and despair, my family and I fled from our home on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 4, while a gentle dusting of ash fell and the sun glowed red overhead in the thick plume of smoke that covered the sky. Since that day I’ve known moments of grief, but have yet to be lost in it because in every instant I’ve been uplifted by the bravery and kindness of others.
Gwin a volunteer firefighter, the publisher of The Bastrop Advertiser, and a member of Calvary Episcopal Church in Bastrop, TX, wrote about his family’s experience with one of the TX fires that destroyed his home and so many others. What stands out in his story is the kindness he received from neighbor and stranger. As Gwin put it, 
“It makes it silly to feel sorry for myself, because the loss of our home pales in comparison to the outpouring of love. I can never give back even the half of all that has been given me, but I suppose that is the truth and the beauty of the human condition. Human kindness is grace made flesh.”
Grace made flesh. God with us. And then he ends his story with this,
 “I loved my home, perhaps too much or perhaps not enough. I built it with my own hands over the course of two years for my family. My sons were born there, their height at each birthday was marked on the cedar post in the center of the living room. So much is gone: my journals, the videotapes of the boys, the last letter my grandfather ever wrote me. But so much is left. In the Lord's Prayer, the only material thing we ask for is our daily bread. My family has been given that and so much more. So I offer thanks.”
Is the Lord with Mark & his family? Indeed God is, and Mark knows it and he felt such grace through the kindness and love of others. Grace made flesh.

Jesus, God made flesh, was confronted by the authorities over what he was saying and doing, and he returns their questions by asking them about John the Baptist, who they failed to believe. And then he tells them a parable:
A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, `Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, `I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, `I go, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first."
Faith. The tax collectors & harlots, the sinners of the day, heard and believed, while the authorities, the faithful ones, failed to believe. It is this abiding grace, for the worker who comes last to the vineyard, the one who said no but then comes, Jesus tells them, God is with you and in your lives. Believe and have faith. The challenge for us today, is to do the will of God by living out our faith in our lives, by saying yes and going…

A seven-year-old girl came to Church School faithfully each week. Her parents would drop her off. They would return an hour later to pick her up or would arrange with a friend's family to bring her home. The Dad was vice president of sales for a local company and Mom was in real estate and was always juggling several deals. The couple's Saturday night parties were the stuff of legend in the community.

One Sunday morning, the pastor saw the daughter in church - and, to his shock, sitting next to her were her parents. The pastor spoke to them at coffee hour and welcomed them. The parents explained what had happened the night before at their party… "It got a little loud and out of hand... The noise woke up our daughter and she came downstairs to the third step. She saw that we were eating and drinking, and she said, 'Oh, can I say the blessing? God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. Good night, everybody.' And she went back upstairs. Then people started to leave: 'Oh my, look at the hour, we've got to be going.' 'We've stayed way too long.' Within two minutes the room was empty."

We began cleaning up, picking up crumpled napkins and half-eaten food and gathering up the empty glasses and dirty dishes. And with two trays, we met on either side of the sink - and we said: "Where do we think we're going?" [From Craddock Stories by Fred B. Craddock.]
Jesus parable of the two sons takes the Gospel into the midst of our busy, complicated everyday lives. Our faith is only words until our actions give full expression to what we believe through our relationships with others; our identifying ourselves as Christians and calling ourselves disciples of Jesus means nothing until our lives express that in concrete ways.

On good or bad days, in thirst or fire or even at a party, we need to give thanks to God for our blessings, live out those blessings through our words and actions and remember that God is always with us, even to the end of the ages. Amen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Int'l Day of Prayer for Peace

Prayers from the BCP:

Almighty God, kindle, we beseech you, in every heart the true love of peace, and guide with your wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth, that in tranquility your dominion may increase till the earth is filled with the knowledge of thy love; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Almighty God our heavenly Father, guide the nations of the world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dedication of Sanctuary Flags

The Prayer:

Almighty God, we thank you that you have put it into the hearts of your people to make offerings for your service, and have been pleased to accept their gifts. Be with us now and bless us as we set apart these flags to remember our founding in the United States of America and in the Episcopal Church to your praise and glory and in memory of Anthony T. Gadzinski (a WWII Navy veteran), Hattie Gadzinski (who worked in a war factory making parachutes), in honor and memory of Navy Seal Team Six and in honor of the ministry of the Rev. Kurt J. Huber; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Symbolism:

The American Flag is what would have hung in our church at its birth – It has 15 stars and 15 stripes, the two additional stars and stripes, approved by the United States Congress's Flag Act of 1794, represent Vermont and Kentucky's entrance into the Union. It is best known as the Star Spangled Banner Flag as it flew over Ft. McHenry during the war of 1812 and Francis Scott Key wrote his famous poem which would become our national anthem with that flag in mind. It wasn’t until 1818 when congress changed the flag to 20 stars (for all the states at that time) and reduced the stripes to 13 to represent the original 13 colonies; for each new state admitted to the union, a new star would be put on, now numbering 50.

The Episcopal Church flag was adopted in 1940 by the General Convention (first conceived in 1918 by the Diocese of Long Island.) The large, red cross that divides the flag is a cross of St. George, the cross of the Church of England, and it represents our ties with our mother church. There are nine small crosses in the upper left quadrant arranged in a St. Andrew's cross, the cross of the Church of Scotland, for it was bishops of the Church of Scotland who agreed to lay hands on Samuel Seabury, ordaining him our first bishop. This cross honors the part the Church of Scotland played in the birth of our church. Each of the nine small crosses that comprises the St. Andrew's cross represents one of the original nine dioceses that in 1789 founded the Episcopal Church (including Connecticut). The colors each have a symbolic meaning: Red is for the blood Christ shed for us and for the lives of the martyrs of our faith; White is the color of purity. The blue of the upper left hand field, is not the deep ocean blue of the American flag, but the light blue of the sky, used often for the clothing of the Blessed Virgin. It is often called Madonna blue because it represents the human nature of Our Lord which He received from His mother.

September 18 Sermon

Its not fair.

Parents have heard that phrase from their children, for a long time. I know I have!

Its not fair. It’s the cry of one who feels wronged. That someone else got something they didn’t deserve or that they should also get something, it should all be equal! We may laugh as adults at how children can react but we adults do it too.

Its not fair. He got the promotion and I didn’t; its not fair I am sick and so many are healthy, my neighbor has power and I don’t. Even our history speaks of those moments.

Consider the Israelites. Moses had helped them escape from Egypt. Believe in God of your ancestors, follow me. He said and they did. Now they are in the wilderness. Are they grateful? Well they were but the harsh reality of being away from the civilization they knew makes them regret the decision.
“You have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
Its not fair, in Egypt we had it all, but here we have nothing. Now Moses could have pointed out that they were enslaved in Egypt and reminded them of the horrific conditions that existed for these now liberated people. What did God do? Set them straight? No, what God did was give them meat and bread, quail and manna. Out of the abundance of God’s love, God gives them food to eat in the wilderness. When they wonder about who did this, Moses tells them,
"It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat."
It is God’s abundant love that sets his people free, a freedom from the scarcity that entrapped them and instead to see the love of God abundant for them, & God feeds them. Likewise, in the parable Jesus tells in the Gospel for today, it is about God feeding his people grace. The parable tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner…

Its time to harvest the grapes, so the landowner hires workers early in the morning, but he doesn’t stop there he goes out again and again and again. Each time hiring those who are standing idle, who haven’t been hired, and he tells them they will get paid whatever is right. When evening comes, all those hired get paid, those hired last were paid first, and given the daily wage. Those who worked all day must have expected more, but when it came there turn, they also received the daily wage. So no matter if they worked all day or if they worked 1 hour, they all got the same pay.

It’s not fair. Many of the laborers cried out! We worked harder than anyone else, why should those who didn’t work as long earn the same as us? That’s no way to run a vineyard! And the landowner replies,
“Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?' So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
This is a parable about the kingdom of heaven; and there God’s generosity and abundance knows no bounds. The parable speaks to the open invitation to God’s kingdom, an invitation to all, first or last, we all receive the same pay, the same salvation, we are free. Such generosity is not earned because of working all day, it is a gift from God, it is grace, it fed the Israelites in the wilderness and it feeds God’s people now. We can reject it or accept it and live. So what does that mean for us today? Let me tell you an Arabian folk tale:
A man walking through the forest saw a fox that had lost its legs. He wondered how the poor animal could survive. Then he saw a tiger come into the clearing with game in its mouth. The tiger ate its fill and then left the rest of the meat for the fox. The next day God fed the fox by means of the same tiger. The man began to wonder at God's great goodness and said to himself, "I too shall just rest here in full trust in the Lord that he will provide me with what I need." The man remained in the forest for several days. But nothing happened. The poor man was almost at death's door with hunger when he heard a voice: "Oh, you poor fool. Open your eyes to the truth. Stop imitating the disabled fox and, instead, follow the example of the tiger." [From The Song of the Bird by Anthony deMello, S.J.]
It’s not fair! How could God care for a disabled fox and not a human being? And yet the voice of God keeps coming back to us, a voice that speaks of God's generous and abundant love and grace for us. Much like the generosity of the landowner, and the care of that tiger for the fox, the call to discipleship demands that, like the tiger & landowner, we seek to embody such abundance in our lives. It isn’t about fairness.

It is about a God who so abundantly loved us, that he sent his only Son to help us be free. A God who continues to feed us here at this altar and invites us, begs us, pushes us by the Holy Spirit to bring that love and grace that we feel here out into a world that shouts out “It’s not fair!” May we open our hearts to the wisdom that God offers us today, so that without concern for the cost of discipleship or the reward of our labors, we may grasp the honor of working in God’s vineyard at whatever time we arrive. Amen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Wake Up Call

(AP) -- The ranks of the nation's poor swelled to nearly 1 in 6 people last year, reaching a new high as long-term unemployment woes left millions of Americans struggling and out of work. The number of uninsured edged up to 49.9 million, the biggest in over two decades.

The Census Bureau's annual report released Tuesday offers a snapshot of the economic well-being of U.S. households for 2010...The overall poverty rate climbed to 15.1 percent, or 46.2 million, up from 14.3 percent in 2009.

Reflecting the lingering impact of the recession, the U.S. poverty rate from 2007-2010 has now risen faster than any three-year period since the early 1980s, when a crippling energy crisis amid government cutbacks contributed to inflation, spiraling interest rates and unemployment.

Measured by total numbers, the 46 million now living in poverty is the largest on record dating back to when the census began tracking poverty in 1959. Based on percentages, it tied the poverty level in 1993 and was the highest since 1983.

You can read more about it here.

It is a wake up call for all of us to work toward alleviating poverty from our midst. Too many have fallen into the pit, too many do not have affordable health insurance. We need to help!

Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP p. 826)

Bishop Michael Curry On Preaching

Some great thoughts about preaching...

The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, preached at Trinity Wall Street on Ascension Day, June 2, 2011.
You have a much-deserved reputation as a great preacher. Why is preaching so important?

I really do think preaching, certainly at its best, when it’s done with a deep desire that God and the good news of Jesus might really come to bear and touch somebody’s life, makes all the difference in the world. What matters is, does the preaching open up that moment in such a way that the eternal word of God becomes flesh and actually dwells among us? When that begins to happen, then God is in business, and God’s doing something, and when God does something, lives get touched. And changed.

You are often asked to be a guest preacher at parishes around the country. How does that compare with preaching to the same congregation all the time?

It’s different. You don’t necessarily know that community or that congregation as well. But I’ve got to tell you, I’ve learned that the longings in the heart are the same. You can go anywhere in the world, and the deep longings of the soul for God and to be in relationship with other people, those longings transcend all sorts of cultural and sociological differences. So if you really do begin to preach to the human heart and the soul, and the deep needs of our common humanity, and bring the Gospel to bear there, you’re going to click. You’re going to make a connection.

You can read the whole interview by Trinity Wall Street here.

A Pastoral Letter on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11/01

Pastoral Letter from the Bishops
Please share in parishes on Sunday, September 11.

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Our lives were radically changed by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Many among us lost family members, co-workers and friends. Others survived to give witness to the horror of that day and the bravery of first responders. Many people from this diocese became volunteers at ground zero and stayed with that work for months. Episcopal churches in Connecticut opened their doors for prayer in ways we had never seen before. And we reached out to persons of other faiths, often in silence and with tears, to seek God and a pathway of new understanding and reconciliation.

Over these ten years we have been a nation at war. Men and women of our communities have served in the armed services across the globe at great risk and great sacrifice. The costs and casualties of the War on Terror have been huge.

The 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001 gives us a focused moment for remembering those who died in the attacks of that day, their families and communities who still bear the loss, those who responded with such courage and bravery, those who serve their country now, and the families who wait at home.

Deep within our faith is the reality that God is at work even in the most terrifying circumstances of human life. Hate and terror are not final realities. With St. Paul we can believe that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.

This weekend, we invite you, to reflect with us on the reality of God's Mission of reconciliation here and now. Open your hearts in prayer to the God of love and healing and hope. Join one of the September 11th Memorial Observances in your area. Reach out to your neighbors, especially to those of other faiths and no faith at all, remembering how much our lives depend on one another. Take this opportunity to recommit yourself to God's work of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and the hope that can lead all humanity beyond fear and war.

At 7PM this Sunday, we will be participating in the interfaith memorial service at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford. We invite you to join us.

Wherever you are this Sunday, please join your prayers with ours for peace, unity within our common humanity, healing and hope.


The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas
The Rt. Rev. James E. Curry
The Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens

Monday, September 12, 2011

Prayers for 9/11/11

God of steadfast love, who led your people through the wilderness: Be with us as we remember the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. By your grace, lead us in the path of new life, in the company of your saints and angels; through Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. Amen. (Diocese of Long Island)

God the compassionate one, whose loving care extends to all the world, we remember this day your children of many nations and many faiths whose lives were cut short by the fierce flames of anger and hatred. Console those who continue to suffer and grieve, and give them comfort and hope as they look to the future. Out of what we have endured, give us the grace to examine our relationships with those who perceive us as the enemy, and show our leaders the way to use our power to serve the good of all for the healing of the nations. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, who, in reconciling love, was lifted up from the earth that he might draw all things to himself. Amen. (Bp. Griswold)