Saturday, March 31, 2012

Holy Week Schedule


As we worship together this Lent, we are reminded each Sunday of what God bids us to do. “You bid your faithful people cleanse their hearts, and prepare with joy for the Paschal feast; that, fervent in prayer and in works of mercy, and renewed by your Word and Sacraments, they may come to the fullness of grace which you have prepared for those who love you.” (Proper Preface for Lent)

I invite you to come worship and reflect with us on the cross as we commemorate the Passion of Jesus through our Holy Week observances. Opportunities abound for us to place ourselves with Christ at his last moments and to prepare for the Paschal (Easter) feast!

When we have walked with him through his Passion, through the cross and grave, and experience his resurrection, all of our celebrations of Easter are made complete.


Holy Week Schedule

Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday, April 1
Services at 8 & 10:15 AM; Church School & Nursery Care at 10:15 AM
Stripping of the Altar takes place at the end of the 10:15 AM service.

Holy Monday, April 2

St. Peter's Readers (Book Discussion: Heaven is for Real) - 7 PM


Holy Tuesday - in Hartford
 

Holy Wednesday, April 4
Tenebrae (Service of Darkness) - 7:30 PM

Maundy Thursday, April 5

Agape Pot Luck, Eucharist & Washing of Feet at Christ Church, Easton at 6 PM

Good Friday, April 6

Children's Stations of the Cross - 12 noon
Good Friday Evening Service - 7:30 PM

Holy Saturday, April 7
Easter Vigil at St. Peter's - 7 PM
(We will be joined by Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.)

Easter Sunday, April 8

Easter Sunrise on the Green - 6:30 AM (Led by the Monroe Clergy Assoc.)
Our Easter Morning Festal Services at 8 & 10:15 AM

The Lenten Offering will go to an outreach project designed by Deacon Christopher & the parish.
The Good Friday Offering will go to the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East.

Friday, March 30, 2012

New Deacon Formation Program

This from Bishop Laura's office...

Dear Friends,
   It is with great joy and excitement that I inform you that we have reformed and reinvigorated the Diaconal Formation program in the Diocese of Connecticut and are inviting people to explore the question of discernment to the diaconate in Connecticut under our new process.
   The Deacon Formation Task Force and the Deacon'sCouncil have worked faithfully for the past year looking at new and empowering models for this significant ministry. We believe we are offering a strong program for diaconal formation in Connecticut at this time. Our goal is to offer formation for deacons which will help form and shape leaders in God's mission. The deacon is called to empower others for ministry, helping all of us to broaden our understanding of how we are called to join God's Mission in the communitieswhere our parishes are located and beyond. Empowering others to work collaboratively with other congregations, local social service agencies and other ministry partners in our local contexts will be a significant part of the ministry of the diaconate as we move forward into the 21st century.
   If you are interested in exploring the diaconate, I invite you to meet with your rector to discuss the possibilities of this call. If your rector and you both feel it is time to move forward in discernment, please be in touch with Julie Burnep and set up a time for both of you to meet with me. After we meet, I will put you in touch with a member of Committee I-D, the diaconal committee on discernment, who will meet with you and the discernment committee put together by your rector to outline the process that is to take place in your home parish as a next step in your journey. You can find the materials for the discernment guide on our website at http://www.ctepiscopal.org/images/customer-files//DiaconateDiscernmentManual2012.pdf.  
   On the website you will also find an outline of the new formation process. The link for this is http://www.ctepiscopal.org/images/customer-files//DeaconFormationBrochure2012.pdfPlease note the flexibility and diversity of options for formation. We believe this will make the diaconate more available to a wide range of people. This formation process will officially begin in September of 2012. In the first year of this new process, we will have rolling admissions, so please start your discernment groups when you feel the Spirit is calling you and do not feel rushed to finish by September. The dates in the discernment manual will not apply during the 2012-2013 year.
   Please be in touch with me via email if you have any questions. I may refer your question to one of the members of the Deacon's Council or the Task Force, but you will hear back from someone regarding your inquiry.
   Blessings and peace, 
   The Rt. Rev. Dr. Laura J. Ahrens

A Covenant in Mission

Now that the dioceses of the Church of England have decided against bringing the Anglican Covenant back to General Synod, with which I agree, we might ask is there another document or two or three that might help us in our struggles?

I still think we can renew our connection with other Anglican Churches by focusing on our common mission:

A Covenant for Communion in Mission

Five Marks of Mission

and the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral.


Open Communion Part II

#CWOB

Some more thoughts on communion for those not baptised yet...
What we are witnessing in the discussion, I think is the Law of Unintended Consequences asserting itself. When we gradually recovered the centrality of the Eucharist during the last century, codified in the 1979 BCP, the presumed cultural environment was still that of "Christendom." An unbaptized adult was a relative rarity. At the same time, there was also a presumption that whatever happens on Sunday morning is the church's "show window" to the world, that the experience of corporate worship would be a newcomer's first encounter (even if invited by a friend) with who we are and what we do. It would be the worship service that would either draw them deeper or, for whatever reason, turn them away. Now, there is the added factor of the exponential secularization of our society; there are vestiges, artifacts, of Christendom, but they are disappearing rapidly.

As a result, we now have a sort of "perfect storm": We have unbaptized adults walking through our doors, curious or inquiring to one degree or another, and encountering, of course, the Eucharist, and a tacit "vibe" that going forward to receive communion is simply what one does, especially if one wishes to remain inconspicuous. And those of us who identify ourselves as the "hosts" of these our "guests" feel like we're being downright impolite if we place any restriction on who may receive the sacrament. Hence, the pressure to bend or amend the rules. But, is there another possible response that honors both the received tradition and the impulse toward hospitality? I think there are at least two--one a stopgap, of sorts, and the other more profound.

The stopgap: This past January 7, my Archdeacon and I attended a Christmas liturgy at a nearly Russian Orthodox church. We were in clericals, people there knew who were were, and we knew we were not invited to receive Holy Communion, and made no attempt to do so. But immediately upon the conclusion of the liturgy, we were accosted by a lay liturgical minister who brought us unconsecrated bread that came from the same loaf that the consecrated portion had been cut from--the "antidoron"--and were enthusiastically offered this bread. I have rarely felt more welcomed in my life. That act, to me, was "radical hospitality." I'm not sure how something like this could be adapted into our liturgical tradition, but it seems worth thinking about.

The profound: Our post-Christian world certainly is not the same as the "pre-Christian" world before Constantine, but there are some significant commonalities. Might we not learn from some of the praxis of the pre-Constantinian church? The whole process of the catechumenate--integral to the baptismal piety that so many are keen to foster--is adapted from this era. But one thing we have *not* adopted is the "privacy" of the Eucharist. Service times were not only not widely published, a non-Christian would have had to know somebody who knows somebody to even learn when and where the Eucharist would be celebrated. And even when successful at discovering that information, an unbaptized inquirer would not only be denied communion, but barred from even remaining in the same room after the homily. The Creed, the Prayers of the People, and the Peace were also the exclusive preserve of the baptized.

I'm not suggesting we go back to meeting in secret, but I do wonder whether we might do well to shed the presumptive expectation that the principal liturgy on Sunday is where the uninitiated will have their first and defining encounter with us. Some might say, "Sure, let's have Morning Prayer, or some non-liturgical form of public worship, in addition to the Eucharist." I think that's worth exploring under some circumstances, but probably doesn't go far enough. It still assumes that our goal is to get "them" to come to "us". I, for one, am more excited about a mission stance that takes "us" to "them"--connecting with people outside of any worship, at the level of their felt needs, and walking with them until we've earned the privilege of inviting them to consider other needs they may not have been aware of, to consider the questions for which Jesus is the answer. And then we fan that spark of faith and begin to form them in discipleship, perhaps before they've even come within a mile of our church building!

Then, as the *last* step of the process, we baptize them and introduce them to the Eucharist.

There are, I believe, many advantages to such a strategy, but one of them is that the Eucharist is freed to be what it is, and not pressured to be something it's not (like a "tool" for evangelism). There's no more reason to "dumb it down" in any way to be "seeker sensitive" ... or even radically hospitable. Christian corporate worship is for all--both Christians and "pre-Christians." The Eucharist is for the initiated, the baptized. We need to learn to be clear about that distinction.

(Rt. Rev.) Dan Martins
Diocese of Springfield
and another thought...
The Diocese of Eastern Oregon is bringing "communion without baptism" or "communion before baptism" to the General Convention. You can read about it here.

My observation in response to pitching this as "radical inclusivity" is simple: The church is radically inclusive and baptism is the means by which people are included. Communion is the celebration of that inclusion, not its means.

It is supremely ironic that a church that spends so much energy (rightly) celebrating the baptismal covenant could then turn its back on its significance in what seems a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of these two sacraments, and their interrelationship.

(Rev.) Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG
and one who is in favor...
In some ways open communion is not new at all. Solomon Stoddard, the father-in-law of Jonathan Edwards and himself one of the great New England Puritan pastors, referred to Holy Communion as a “converting ordinance.” Stoddard believed that the experience of receiving communion served to transform the heart of the recipient. As a pastor, I have seen this happen countless times at St. Bart’s – as non-Christians who receive Holy Communion experience God in a powerful way, leading to a desire to be baptized. I ask: Might we not see the experience of receiving communion as a way of drawing people to baptism?

(Rev.) D. Gary Nicolosi

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Get Rid of Your Crappy Pastor!

I loved this post!  You have to read the whole thing here:

http://revdavidh.blogspot.com/2012/03/get-rid-of-your-crappy-pastor.html

An excerpt:
I simply cannot count the number of complaints that I get to hear about other pastors. I've responded to such complaints many ways over the years. The simply smile and nod, without actually agreeing -- or conversely, the serious head shake. I've advised the individuals to go and talk to their pastor about their complaint. I've even tried to convince the complainer that their pastor really is pretty good.

But enough of that. I know what most of these complainers want ... They want to get rid of their crappy pastor. The sooner the better. And so, without further ado, six steps to get rid of your crappy pastor and get a better pastor in your congregation.
Read his 6 simple steps! (and please do them!)

He also has a follow-up...

http://revdavidh.blogspot.com/2012/03/thank-you.html

Another excerpt:
Shhh ... Here's the secret: We're all crappy pastors. Yup. I'm a crappy pastor. I regularly fail, let people down, say the wrong thing, forget important things, and hurt people's feelings. I am a crappy pastor. Pastors: go ahead and admit it. Trust me, it is freeing to face up to and be honest about our shortcomings.

And any pastor who can't make that admission is a crappy pastor because they are not aware of their shortcomings. We are all crappy pastors. The perfect pastor is like the Sasquatch: We've all heard of them, but no one has actually seen one.

We are all crappy pastors, because we are all sinful, imperfect, and flawed. We need the love, encouragement, and prayers of our colleagues and the congregations we serve.

And the congregations we serve? Yup, you guessed. They're crappy, too. Filled with sinful, imperfect, and flawed people who need the love, encouragement, and prayers of one another and the pastors who serve them.

The good news? Our God is head over heels in love with flawed, imperfect people. We are just God's type!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March 25 Sermon (5th Lent)

This sermon was given at the 8 AM service...

How do we find God?
The late Henri Nouwen put it this way, “The church is a spiritual director. It tries to connect your story with God’s story. Just to be a true part of this community means you are being directed and you are being guided. The Bible is a spiritual director. People must read Scripture as a word for themselves personally, and ask where God speaks to them.”
God is always speaking. But we need to listen.

The children of our Godly Play class move towards the celebration of Easter by taking 7 classes to listen to the stories of Jesus’ journey to the cross and resurrection. It is called the Mystery of Easter. Using 7 pictures of Christ (from Godly Play), it all begins with…

Jesus’ Birth & Grown (I)

In the beginning a baby was born. God chose Mary to be his mother. And the Mother Mary & Father Joseph kept the baby close and gave that baby everything he needed to grow. Love!

Jesus is Lost & Found (II)

The baby grew and became a boy. When Jesus was around 12, he accompanied Mary & Joseph and many others from Nazareth to Jerusalem for one of the high holy days. After the celebration, the Nazareans went home through the great high gate, but Jesus was not there. Mary & Joseph searched for him & finally found him in the temple with the rabbis/priests. "Didn't you know I would be in my father's house?" And Mary treasured these words in her heart.

Jesus’ Baptism & Blessing by God (III)

Jesus grew and became a man, and around the age of 30 was baptized in the river Jordan by his cousin, John. He didn’t want to, but Jesus persuaded him and as he came out of the waters, they saw a dove and heard a voice, "this is the beloved." Jesus then went into the desert, where he stayed 40 days & nights to learn more about who he was and what his work was going to be.

Jesus’ Desert & Discovery Experience (IV)

In the desert there was little to eat or drink and there he was tempted: stones to bread, jump to test God, King over all kingdoms. Jesus said, No to all the temptations. After this, he went back across the Jordan to do his work.

Jesus as Healer & Parable-Maker (V)

His work was to come close to people, especially those no one else wanted to come close to, like Healing the blind man. When Jesus came close to people, they changed, they became well. He also told parables to the people.

Jesus offers the Bread & Wine (VI)

Jesus went to Jerusalem one last time. As he rode a humble donkey, he was greeted by people waving palm branches, laying down branches and their garments on the road. In an upper room, the disciples and Jesus shared a last meal. Jesus took some bread and wine and gave it to them, each time telling them whenever they gather, to break bread and drink wine, to do it in remembrance of him.

The One who was Easter & Still Is (VII)

After supper, Jesus went with his disciples to Gethsemane, there he was betrayed, arrested and taken to Jerusalem for his trial. That next day outside the city walls, Jesus was crucified. Afterwards, he was laid in a tomb. On Sunday, they went to the tomb, found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Jesus who died on the cross, had risen, and was still with them, as they gathered as they shared in the bread and wine.

One side of the picture is Easter, the other crucifixion. You cannot take them apart, you cannot have one without the other and that is the mystery of Easter, a mystery where we find God.

Finding God in Story & Bread
In that mystery is a journey, a memory of what has happened. Verna Dozier remind us that our parish family is “a Scripture community which is a community with a memory. Deep in that memory is some event in which we shared either by actual participation in it or by being brought into it (into the story). The memory has to be kept right. A Scripture community is a community with a ritual life that keeps the memory fresh.”
We keep Lent to remind us of the journey to Easter, to the event that changed the world and changed our lives that brought life out of death. For each Sunday we come to live into that event ritually reminding us that indeed Jesus is always with us and we find him in our gathering as we hear sacred story, offer our prayers, and break bread together. Amen.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hunger Games

I came across an interesting blog post on the Hunger Games books and movie.


Beth Felker Jones: The Hunger Games, Christian ethics and the young
Let’s talk about the commodification of bodies in late consumer capitalism,” I say to my eleven-year-old daughter. “Or,” I go on, “it’s been awhile since we’ve had a serious conversation about class stratification or the horrors of war.” Her eyes light up, and we have a satisfying exchange on these satisfying topics. I feel gratified about my role in her moral formation, and she reports to her friends that I’m the best mom on the block.

Not so much.

But it’s precisely these topics -- deeply human topics that Christians have good reason to want to discuss with the young -- that are treated in Suzanne Collins’ bestselling trilogy, “The Hunger Games.” Most every kid in the fifth grade class has read the series, and fans could hardly wait for today’s opening of the film version of the first book.

Read the whole thing here.

March 18 Sermon (4th Lent)


Deacon Christopher's sermon...

John 3:16 has become one of the most commonly known passages of the New Testament. Signs labeled “John 3:16” can be seen held by fans at most sporting events. Books have been written just about this one line from John’s gospel. I admit that I even had a book titled “John 3:16”.

But continue to read the passage. Continue after what it is that Jesus proclaims to Nicodemus.

“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."

Wow, as a police officer I can have a field day with this passage. I have seen this day after day on the streets, in my training, in my friends and in my family. It is the central focus that I have labored on in the hopes of making myself a better man for this world, and perhaps helping a few others along the way.

Since I was a child I had a fear of reading out loud and speaking before a crowd. The problem persisted throughout my teenage years, and crept along with me as an adult. One fateful Sunday while serving as a chalice bearing at St. Paul’s Fairfield the reader for the Epistle did not show up. The priest kept nudging me to read. I kept nudging her back to leave me alone.

But, being a good and faithful soldier I took my orders and walked up to the lectern and began to read, what I thought was St. Paul’s letter. It went on forever. It had to be at least five paragraphs long. I started to literally black out as the fear of public reading overwhelmed me. As I heard my voice quivering the oxygen left my brain so that my heart and lungs could have more oxygen for the fight or flight reflexes that were taking over. I had never been so scared and felt such utter failure.

As I sat down, I still don’t remember getting to my seat, I heard the priest begin chanting the Gospel. I don’t even think that I stood for it. It sounded very familiar to me. Grabbing my leaflet I looked at the Gospel and realized in my terror I had read the wrong reading. I then looked at what I was supposed to have read and it was only four sentences long.

I went home depressed and berated myself for my public humiliation. Words of “stupid”, “bad reader”, “unintelligent”, “screw up” flooded my head. I knew that these adjectives could not be true, but they felt like the truth and I was afraid to confront them

A friend of mine told me about this book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. He knew that I wanted to write a novel but I was blocked. Every time I started writing really good works, I stopped and told myself it would never happen. Part of the process in the Artist’s Way is to write Morning Pages. Every morning before anything I did or said aloud, I would sit down and streamline three pages of uninterrupted thought. Even if it was mundane babble it would go on the pages.

After one month something occurred. I wrote on those pages why it was I believed I was unintelligent and could never read or speak in public. There were several blaring reasons that stemmed from my childhood which led me down a path where I was taught, sometimes on purpose and other times just recklessly, that I was stupid, not a good student, a bad and slow reader, and too poor a speaker to ever talk in public.

That day I threw away those Morning Pagers and never wrote another one. I had felt as if the shadows of my doubts and self-perception had been washed away in a white glow. You see, I had come to realize the Deception that my life had been given. Lies cannot stand the truth and once the Light is cast upon the Darkness, just as John writes, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it”. A favorite translation of mine actually says, “and the darkness could not comprehend it.”

From that day on I read out loud in my home to myself, my children, my wife. I then began reading out loud during my deacon training and whenever given the opportunity I would speak in front of crowds until the lies that had hidden themselves as truth had disappeared.

So what happens to us along the way? Very truly I believe in Paul’s words when he says in this Epistle “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” In order for us to do those “good works” we must believe that we are “good”. That we are created for something better than what it is we have been told.

Darkness is therefore a lie. A deception that we have believed about ourselves for so long that it has become more true than the truth of who we are. Lies, like shadows, are without substance which is why we must keep feeding the lie with sadness, doubt and fear. Eventually it morphs into anger, regret and even violence.

And what happens when someone comes along bearing truth? That truth which is at the very heart of all we have come to believe is the opposite of what it is we have come to falsely understand about ourselves. When the shadows of the Deceiver become all that we allow ourselves to accept as true, then when the Light shines upon us and exposes our weaknesses and fears for what they truly are we rebel against the Light. It is, after all, much easier to remain where we are in life than to accept the possibility that there is something Greater out there, something that we have denied for so long about ourselves and to ourselves.

Today I will be meeting with anyone interested in reaching out to those in our community and beyond as Christians. It is our mission to help those in need. These are the good works that God has decreed through his son for us to complete. I ask all of you to push aside any doubts or fears that may arise from trying something new, or attempting to step out of a safe and comfortable place in an existing ministry in the hopes and plans for you and your ministry to grow even more.

Perhaps there is something you have always wanted to do but somewhere along the way someone laughed, belittled, or ignored your idea, charity, or dream. The wound begins to take on a new form in the Darkness that hovers around the hurt like a vulture until we stuff it down so deep that we become comfortable with the pain, and sometimes even rely on it so we don’t get hurt again.

That is not God’s calling to us. That is no way for us to live and certainly no way for us to help reach out to others, friends and strangers alike, in our personal and communal ministries. I have been with this parish for two months and I see potential that expands across the infinite possibilities that each one of us possessed as children. I am excited to be paired among you because I know that there is nothing short of greatness in the Light that shines from your eyes as you look up at me, week after week.

Before I leave I would like to end with a quote that has inspired me. It says everything that I have tried to say.
Our Greatest Fear —Marianne Williamson

it is our light not our darkness that most frightens us

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other

people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.

It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
Amen.





Friday, March 16, 2012

Sacramental Rites

Q. What is Reconciliation of a Penitent (aka Confession)?

A. Reconciliation of a Penitent, or Penance, is the rite in which those who repent of their sins may confess them to God in the presence of a priest, and receive the assurance of pardon and the grace of absolution.
The ministry of reconciliation, which has been committed by Christ to his Church, is exercised through the care each Christian has for others, through the common prayer of Christians assembled for public worship, and through the priesthood of Christ and his ministers declaring absolution.

The Reconciliation of a Penitent is available for all who desire it. It is not restricted to times of sickness. Confessions may be heard anytime and anywhere. The old adage: “all may, some should, none must” is a good way of describing this rite. It can be found on page 447 in the Book of Common Prayer.
Q. What is Unction of the Sick?

A. Unction is the rite of anointing the sick with oil, or the laying on of hands, by which God’s grace is given for the healing of spirit, mind, and body.
On the Third Sunday of the Month, there is a public laying on of hands and anointing for healing at the Altar Rail following both services. The Rector also visits those in the hospital when notified and offers both unction and communion. Ministration to the Sick is on page 453 in the Book of Common Prayer.

Great Lent

If you enjoyed hearing the words of Alexander Schmemann, you can find more wonderful excerpts from Great Lent here:

http://www.antiochian.org/great-lent-excerpts

Another excerpt:

When a man leaves on a journey, he must know where he is going. Thus with Lent. Above all, Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Easter, "the Feast of Feasts." It is the preparation for the "fulfillment of Pascha, the true Revelation." We must begin, therefore, by trying to understand this connection between Lent and Easter, for it reveals something very essential, very crucial about our Christian faith and life.

Is it necessary to explain that Easter is much more than one of the feasts, more than a yearly commemoration of a past event? Anyone who has, be it only once, taken part in that night which is "brighter than the day," who has tasted of that unique joy, knows it. [...] On Easter we celebrate Christ's Resurrection as something that happened and still happens to us. For each one of us received the gift of that new life and the power to accept it and live by it. It is a gift which radically alters our attitude toward everything in this world, including death. It makes it possible for us to joyfully affirm: "Death is no more!" Oh, death is still there, to be sure, and we still face it and someday it will come and take us. But it is our whole faith that by His own death Christ changed the very nature of death, made it a passage — a "passover," a "Pascha" — into the Kingdom of God, transforming the tragedy of tragedies into the ultimate victory. [...]

Such is that faith of the Church, affirmed and made evident by her countless Saints. Is it not our daily experience, however, that this faith is very seldom ours, that all the time we lose and betray the "new life" which we received as a gift, and that in fact we live as if Christ did not rise from the dead, as if that unique event had no meaning whatsoever for us? [...] We simply forget all this — so busy are we, so immersed in our daily preoccupations — and because we forget, we fail. And through this forgetfulness, failure, and sin, our life becomes "old" again — petty, dark, and ultimately meaningless — a meaningless journey toward a meaningless end. [...] We may from time to time acknowledge and confess our various "sins," yet we cease to refer our life to that new life which Christ revealed and gave to us. Indeed, we live as if He never came. This is the only real sin, the sin of all sins, the bottomless sadness and tragedy of our nominal Christianity.

If we realize this, then we may understand what Easter is and why it needs and presupposes Lent. For we may then understand that the liturgical traditions of the Church, all its cycles and services, exist, first of all, in order to help us recover the vision and the taste of that new life which we so easily lose and betray, so that we may repent and return to it. [...] And yet the "old" life, that of sin and pettiness, is not easily overcome and changed. The Gospel expects and requires from man an effort of which, in his present state, he is virtually incapable. [...] This is where Great Lent comes in. This is the help extended to us by the Church, the school of repentance which alone will make it possible to receive Easter not as mere permission to eat, to drink, and to relax, but indeed as the end of the "old" in us, as our entrance into the "new." [...] For each year Lent and Easter are, once again, the rediscovery and the recovery by us of what we were made through our own baptismal death and resurrection.

A journey, a pilgrimage! Yet, as we begin it, as we make the first step into the "bright sadness" of Lent, we see — far, far away — the destination. It is the joy of Easter, it is the entrance into the glory of the Kingdom. And it is this vision, the foretaste of Easter, that makes Lent's sadness bright and our lenten effort a "spiritual spring." The night may be dark and long, but all along the way a mysterious and radiant dawn seems to shine on the horizon. "Do not deprive us of our expectation, O Lover of man!"

Glory be to God!

Sermon: Third Sunday in Lent

Gracious God, we give you thanks for all the benefits you have given us in our Lord Jesus Christ, our most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother, and we pray that we may see Christ more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly, day by day. Amen. (adapted from a prayer by St. Richard of Chichester)
“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.”
We don’t like to be called foolish or weak. We are strong. We are in control. We are not fools. And yet, St. Paul reminds us that we don’t always understand God’s ways, that what we do understand as strong and wise, is not always the same in God’s eyes. What is a stumbling block to some, foolishness to others, is the source of our salvation, Jesus who was crucified. I think of a story…
A couple moved to Atlanta and were looking for a new church to join. They attended a dinner for all newcomers at a church where they heard about its many ministries and programs.

“We have a beautiful sanctuary and wonderful worship.” “This church has the finest music program in the city.” “The youth program is fantastic.”

Then a young man named Marshall told his story. High on crack cocaine, he’d stumbled into the parish outreach center and begged for help. “I’ve been sober for three years now, the reason I’m joining is that God saved me in this church.”

The visitors looked at one another sheepishly: They were there for the music and parking; Marshall was there for the salvation. A few weeks later a squib in the newsletter noted that Marshall was an inmate in the county jail. One of the newcomers went to see him. Marshall told him his story:

“I was in the outreach center, counseling people like myself, off the street, telling them that they could do right. I realized I hadn’t done right myself. I had an old warrant for my arrest. It would never have caught up with me, but I turned myself in. I’ll be out by Easter. But in the meantime, I’ve got an outreach center here. I write letters for people who can’t read, and every night we have a prayer meeting.” [From a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Thomas Long, Washington National Cathedral, June 1, 2008.]
This Lenten journey we are on is about our connection with God’s salvation, about God in our midst who wants us to remove all that holds us back from seeing God deeply ingrained in our lives. Not just superficially, but to change our lives, to go to the depths of who we are and be upheld by our God who has been at work for a long time.
As the great Orthodox theologian and liturgist Alexander Schmemann put it in his book “Great Lent”, “The events of sacred history (Adam and Eve, Paradise and Fall, the Patriarchs Noah and the Flood, David, the Promised Land, and ultimately Christ and the early Church) are revealed as events of my life, God's acts in the past as acts aimed at me and my salvation, the tragedy of sin and betrayal as my personal tragedy. My life is shown to me as part of the great and all-embracing fight between God and the powers of darkness which rebel against Him.”
We place ourselves in the midst of those sacred stories because they are our stories of sin and redemption, of loss and hope, of death and life. As the great Blues guitarist BB King put it…
I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice as they pierced his side,…
But I've seen love conquer the great divide
They are our stories; we can put ourselves there too and what ultimately frees us, what conquers that great divide, the darkness of our lives, is the love of God, the love which has acted in history, the love we see in the life of Jesus.

Even in today’s Gospel, as Jesus drives out the merchants and their cattle, overturns the tables of the money changers, all of whom have seemingly taken over the temple. He does all this because they have distorted the meaning of the temple.

The cleansing of the temple challenges us to take a look at our own temple, the Church: to realize that Christ has called us to this temple, to be a church: to be the compassion, the healing, the justice, the peace of Christ for one another; to refocus all we do here as the means for realizing the presence of God in our midst.

But it is also for us as individual members, to remember that our own bodies are temples and they too need cleansing, the tables need turning over in our lives, those things that separate us from God and from the rest of God’s creation. Again in Schmemann’s words…
“The spiritual story of the world is also my story. They challenge me with the decisive events and acts of the past whose meaning and power, however, are eternal because every human soul-- unique and irreplaceable-- moves, as it were, through the same drama, is faced with the same ultimate choices, discovers the same ultimate reality.”
Indeed we are faced with similar choices, for our God who led the Israelites out of the house of slavery, is the same God who will help lead us out of our houses of bondage & foolishness, out of our houses of control & strength, to seek out God’s wisdom and salvation even in the darkness. We need God to help us cleans ourselves, over turn the tables in our way, and help us recover that relationship we want: to see Christ more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly, day by day…

Let me end with some final words from Schmemann:
“The Lenten season is meant to kindle a "bright sadness" within our hearts. Its aim is precisely the remembrance of Christ, a longing for a relationship with God that has been lost. Lent offers the time and place for recovery of this relationship. The darkness [and simplicity] of Lent allows the flame of the Holy Spirit to burn within our hearts until we are led to the brilliance of the Resurrection [at Easter].” Amen.

Sermon: 2nd Sunday in Lent

O God of our ancestors, replenish us in our barren times, lead us out of our habits of captivity and into your country of promise; In trouble, in emptiness of life, in sorrow, let us never be separated from you, that we may build in the wilderness an altar and offer our whole hearts to your renewing fire and delivering mercy, through Jesus Christ who gave himself for us. Amen.

I was tempted to just hold up a picture of Norah…but as I thought about it, a baby is so trusting, because it has to be, it can’t do what it needs, it always needs help. Trust is part of our growing up. To trust one another is part of life…
One summer a family moved into a house in a small town in New England. The house was reached by driving up a long, rocky road. The new owner asked about having the larger rocks in the road removed. Leave the stones in place, his neighbors said. Without them, the dirt road will turn to mud when the rains come in early spring. Here, the New Englanders said, "we need a hard road, not a smooth one." [From Learning to Fall by Philip Simmons.]
And the family trusted their neighbors who were right. Abram trusted God.

When God asked him and Sarai to move, they did, and it was the right move. Now Abram and Sarai did not have any children and God again came among them…
"I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous."
Abram is overwhelmed by God’s presence and promise, and falls down before God. Because of their faithfulness, God renames them, blesses them and and makes the promise of a son to the renamed Abraham and Sarah.

It is their real faith, which helps create the connection to God who gives them a son, Isaac, when Sarah and Abraham could not conceive before. It was through the line of Isaac that the descendents of Abraham would make many nations as God had told him.

Both God and Abraham were faithful... As one author has put it, "God took the risk that Abraham would respond. Abraham took the risk that God would provide." (Eugene Roop)

Abraham used his trust and his faith in God, for he experienced God as just and giving, and was able to live into the unexpected, to be prepared and to follow through with what God had commanded him.

Peter, our patron Saint, on the other hand struggled with his faith and his trust in what Jesus said.

Peter who had left his fishing nets behind to follow Jesus, who proclaimed that Jesus was the messiah, is unable to handle the unexpected news from Jesus that he is going to die and three days later rise from the grave.

No, that's not the messiah, he will conquer.. .Peter rebukes Jesus in private.. .but Jesus will have none of that. Peter is missing that faith and trust that Abraham had.

So Jesus turns to the disciples and utters that monumental instruction to help them understand their faith: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

To follow Jesus, in his ways, is to carry our cross, to believe and to trust that God will see us through whatever we have to get through. I think of one of my favorite stories that Bishop Festo Kivengere used to tell:
One day a little girl sat watching her mother working in the kitchen. She asked her mummy, 'What does God do all day long?' For a while the mother was stumped, but then she said, 'Darling, I'll tell you what God does all day long. God spends his whole day mending broken things.'"
To carry our cross is to follow Jesus believing that God is at work mending broken things in our world and in us too. And through faith, we are called to help God in this endeavor in our world.

That is the faith we are called into, to believe and trust and hope that all is being made new and whole again.
As St. Paul said, “For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham.”
The family trusted their neighbors. Abraham believed what God told him, Paul rested in the grace of faith and Peter struggled and doubted but would come to fully believe what Jesus had said. Each gives us a glimpse of the faith that God so graciously gives to us.
As Mother Teresa put it, “God will never, never, never let us down if we have faith and put our trust in Him. He will always look after us. So we must cleave to Jesus. Our whole life must simply be woven into Jesus.”
Today, may we take up our cross and follow Jesus in faith and in trust, on the path that is before us this Lent. Amen.

Sermon: 1st Sunday in Lent

Deacon Christopher's first sermon at St. Peter's!
This is one of my favorite Gospel readings. It has meant many different things to me over my life and continues to evolve. As I read this passage from Mark I now reflect more as a father than anything else. As a parent it is our jobs to keep our children free from harm, you’ll notice I didn’t say “safe” and as you get to know me you understand why. It is our obligation to teach them morals, right from wrong, to love them, to escort them down their own personal paths without imposing our own paths. It is to prepare them for the trials and tribulations that Life has hidden for them at every corner and crevice so that when the times come they may be victorious, or when knocked down be able to get back onto their own feet again and again and hold their chins high because they grew up in the power of the understanding of who they are.

And so, as Jesus is baptized by his cousin, John, in the River Jordan an incredible miracle occurs. The heavens are torn apart and the Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice is heard declaring, “You are my son the beloved; with you I am well please.”

One of the most important parts of my role as father to my two sons is my claim. Here God claims His Son. Here God declares from the heavens that this man, this man drenched in the dirty waters of the Jordan River is not only His Son, but that Jesus is His Beloved. Listen to that word, Beloved. Did Jesus’ heart burst forth his chest when he heard that acclamation? I still remember as a child my father standing by my door as he turned off my bedroom light calling me “Tiger”. That ownership over me, that declaration of his belief in the power that I had, the acknowledgment of my own special relationship with my dad always made me feel happy, secure, and mighty.

And then God says, “with you I am well pleased.” Why was God pleased with His Son? We know nothing of Jesus in the Book of Mark up to this point. So what did he do? He was thirty years old by this time. What did he do that was so impressive that God would open the Heavens, descend his Holy Spirit poetically in the symbol of a dove, and then openly claim Jesus as His Son, His Beloved? What did Jesus do up to this point in time that would deserve such recognition?

As a father I know the answer to this is simply, nothing. Jesus didn’t need to. He was God’s son and that was enough. And even though the skies have never opened for me, and God’s voice has never called out to me for all the world to hear there is a wonderful pain in my heart whenever I claim my sons and declare my love for them, and I know that the words I speak to them is an echoing of God’s words within me for myself.

“And the spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan.”

I was watching a movie this week called Rocky Balboa. Actually I watched it four times. There is a scene where Rocky, in his late fifties, has agreed to come out of retirement to fight once again. His son, who has long blamed his father for making his life miserable because the son can’t live up to a self imposed expectation of being a champion’s son (which by the way was never imposed by his loving father- watch the movie and you will see Sylvester Stallone play a remarkable and loving father). When the son finally erupts and demands that Rocky stop listening to the dreams, demons and questions that we all discover as we get older Rocky says to his son:

“Let me tell you something you probably already know, the world ain’t always sunshine and rainbows, it’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it….. you, me, or nobody’s gonna hit as hard as Life…it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward …..that’s how winning is done. Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth…..but you’ve got to be willing to take the hits and not pointing fingers saying you’re ain’t where you want to be because of him or her or anybody…..cowards do that and that ain’t you…you’re better than that!”

This is what Lent is all about…this is the desert of our lives in which we have to abandon ourselves. And in these forty days we are instructed by the living Christ to keep moving forward and not to give into the temptation of pointing our fingers at God and saying that “He has abandoned us” that “God has not been there for us the way a father should have been.” That’s what Satan did to Jesus in the desert. That’s how the devil tried to defeat his enemy. If Satan were able to prove to Jesus that he did not need to depend upon God; that Jesus was the ultimate power in this world unto him, and if the devil could play upon Jesus’ vanity, then the Satan would have been successful. Remember, even as the Devil is a liar, he always knows just which lies sound best for each individual.

And so why, why would a loving God who declared his son “beloved” drive him away from the safety of his home of thirty years and force him into the wilderness where the Enemy was waiting? The world is hard enough under Roman occupation without sending an unarmed man into battle against Lucifer, the Angel of Light and Lord of the Fallen. What kind of a loving father does this to his child? A father who knows his child’s worth and potential better than His own child does.

I have been a police officer since I was nineteen years old. I have more than enough firsthand experience that this is not a safe world. It is full of misery, loathing, starvation, disease and sadness. Therefore, in order to see past the drudgery of life’s existence and understand the good, not pleasantness, not unproblematic, but the Good that this world truly is, Jesus must be tested. This is not a test that Jesus must pass in order to prove to God that he is ready to take on the role of Messianic hope. We have already heard God’s claim and acclamation of His pride and love towards his son earlier. No, it is a test for Jesus to pass in order that he may finally come to a full recognition of self and understand his identity which will be tested again and again by demons, men of influence and power, nay sayers and a loved one who ultimately betrays him, for the next three years. And while starving in the desert for forty days that is exactly what the Enemy did to Jesus, he tested his identity, his self worth, to see where he, Satan, stood before the Son of Man.

And why did the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness? Surely it is not only because that is where Satan lay hiding and waiting. No, because the wilderness is not safe, and neither is God. My wife knows that one of my favorite parts of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is when Lucy, the youngest of the four children who stumble into Narnia, upon seeing a massive Lion named Aslan, who is the representative of Christ is Lewis’ novels asks,

“But is he safe?”

To which the beaver replies, “Of course he’s not safe, but he’s Good.”

This is the wilderness of which the soul apart from the safety of the home finally opens up and can properly be tested.

Before I decided to join the Air Force in my junior year of high school I read about the Yamabushi, or the Mountain Warriors of Japan. I read that the Yamabushi declared that “a boy cannot become a man while living in his parents’ home. He must leave the safety of his home and test himself by himself, on his own.” Sounds a lot like what the Holy Spirit was demanding of Christ.

What happened to Jesus in that desert? What suffering did he experience at the sun’s heat by day and the cold temperatures at night? Did his stomach hurt from the extreme fasting? How much weight did he lose? Was his mouth parched? His lips dried and cracked by the whipping winds and driving sands? Did he know who Satan was right away and if so, did that terrify him knowing that here stood an angel capable of overthrowing one third of God’s realm?

Did the power of the Holy Spirit that drove Christ out into the desolate lands remain with him or did it drop him off and leave him behind? There have been scarce few times in my life when I actually felt the Holy Spirit, or perhaps my soul opening itself for the Holy Spirit. More times than not I have felt empty, or void, of that precious power, intensity and passion that the Spirit commanded within my body. But the longing never leaves me, even though many times I feel as though I had been dropped off in the middle of a desert alone. But it is when we are alone, tired, and scared that the eternal spark within us has the greatest opportunity to combust into searing flames.

In the Book of Luke it says that upon Jesus’ completion of the forty days worth of temptation and tests by Satan he returned, “filled with the Holy Spirit” and began teaching in the synagogues where he was said to have “taught with authority”. This is the transformation that this man had coming out of the pain and suffering he had to endure in order to find himself, to actually understand who he was meant to be. The words that he read from the Torah were no longer words, they were experiences that left an indelible mark upon his psyche and soul.

I have heard that “at the end of pain comes success”. Isn’t that what Lent is about? It is the journey of our souls, the emptying of ourselves, and the battle to live an unsafe life for forty days so that when the triumph of Christ’s return from Hell on Easter is complete that we may also rejoice with an identity where we understand ourselves sons and daughters of the Creator, and sisters and brothers of our Lord Most High, Jesus Christ.

How will you spend your time in the desert? How will you provoke the Enemy into knowing your name so that the fear and intimidation of that Liar’s tests may show you the way to greater understanding of how mighty and powerful you truly are as a Christian? God, your Heavenly Father, has dared you to live an unsafe life. He has put us in a wilderness of uncertainty, pain, and regret. He has placed us on this battleground that we call Earth with this understanding in mind:

These are my sons and my daughters, my Beloveds, in whom I am well pleased and I know who have it in them to be the Lions and Lionesses of Judah who may come away scarred but gloriously victorious; and when their final day comes and they have conquered the Life that this World has to offer, that they will know who they are as my children and inherit the eternal greatness that they were created to receive.

So ask yourselves, “What’s my worth?” and when you figure that out, go out into the Wilderness and get your worth.

Amen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Life & Death

As we welcomed Norah into our home, we said good-bye to our bunny Arliss. Life is like that, life & death are always before us...

O God, you have taught us through your blessed Son that whoever receives a little child in the name of Christ receives Christ himself: We give thanks for the blessing you have bestowed upon our family in giving us a child. Confirm our joy by a lively sense of your presence with us, and give us calm strength and patient wisdom as we seek to bring this child to love all that is true and noble, just and pure, lovable and gracious, excellent and admirable, following the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.   Amen.


Most merciful God, we return to you Arliss our bunny, a creature of your own making and your gift into our lives. We praise you for his beauty and strength, for his grace and power; we thank you for his faithful companionship in our joys and sorrows; and we bless you for the time  during which you entrusted him into our care. Receive now Arliss our bunny back into the arms of your everlasting love, O Giver of life, through whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ all that is lost to death is restored to life, and in whose Name we pray. Amen.

A short Blogging Break...

I have been on a short blogging break as we welcomed the newest Huber!

Norah Huber came home a couple weeks ago!

Welcome Norah!