Monday, December 14, 2015

Hanging the greens or the "greening" of the Church

As we have already noted, through the centuries, Christians have observed a time of waiting and
expectation before celebrating the birth of the Savior at Christmas. The Advent season is a time for reflection and preparation; its mood is more joyful than repentant. Our Advent celebrations have been enriched by various traditions (like the ubiquitous advent wreath) to reflect its distinctive Christian meaning. These traditions all seek to proclaim the revelation of God's love as expressed in Christ's birth in a humble stable, His sacrificial death on the cross, and His victorious resurrection! They point to the hope of Christ's coming again as the King of kings and Lord of Lords. In a sense, Advent makes innkeepers out of all of us, asking each of us to make room for the arrival of the Christ Child.

Perhaps the most striking and the most universal feature of Christmas is the use of evergreens in churches and homes. Among ancient Romans evergreens were an emblem of peace, joy, and victory. Early Christians placed them in their windows to indicate that Christ had entered the home. Holly and ivy, along with pine, and fir are called evergreens because they never change color. They are ever-green, ever-alive, even in the midst of winter. Thus they can well symbolize the unchanging nature of our God, remind us of the everlasting life that is ours through Christ Jesus.

In Christian thought and sentiment, holly became widely used in church celebrations. Holly was seen to represent the burning bush from which Moses heard the voice of God, or a symbol of Mary whose being glows with the Holy Spirit. The red berries have represented the blood drops from the cruel thorns in the crown of Jesus. This latter representation is heard throughout many Advent and Christmas carols.

And so it is that once our attention focuses on the celebration of the Incarnation at Christmas (liturgically marked on December 17, he first day for the great “O Antiphons”), we “green” our worship spaces, anticipating and “making room” for the coming of Christ on Christmas.

This year, our greening occurs exactly on the 17th, a great fortune of coincidence! The antiphon assigned for Evening Prayer (Vespers) on that day begin: “O Come, Thou Wisdom from on high, who orders all things mightily . . .” You might recognize this as one of the verses from the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (Hymnal, No. 56) and right you would be. In fact, this much beloved Advent hymn is a compilation of all seven of the “O” antiphons – one each evening from December 17th until our Christmas celebration! 

Even more than the beautiful greens in our church, the Christmas tree has become the center of many of our festivities. Often glittering with lights and ornaments, it is a part of the beauty and meaning of Christmas. There are several legends and stories about the Christmas tree.

The first use of the Christmas tree was in the medieval German Paradise Plays, held outdoors and portraying the creation of humankind. The Tree of Life was a fir tree decorated with apples. Later other ornaments were hung upon them, such as paper flowers and gilded nuts. In England branches or whole trees were forced into bloom indoors for Christmas. From these beginnings the use of a tree at Christmas was established.

The story is told that on one Christmas Eve Martin Luther wandered outdoors and was struck with the beauty of the starry sky. Its brilliance and loveliness led him to reflect on the glory of the first Christmas Eve as seen in Bethlehem's radiant skies. Wishing to share with his family the enchantment he felt, he cut from the forest an evergreen, glistening with snow, and took it home. He placed upon it candles to represent the glorious heavens he had seen. 

The use of a candle-lighted tree soon spread to all Europe and came to be regarded it as one of the central ornaments of Christmas.

So the next time you see the splendor of a Christmas tree, remember that it is a continuing witness to everlasting life as offered to us in Christ Jesus - and that far from a commercial enterprise, it speaks a deeply spiritual message . . . "O Christmas tree, O Christmas Tree, thy leaves are so unchanging" -- Just like God's love.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Welcome to Advent!

Everyone loves to celebrate Christmas, but Advent often gets short shrift – even in the Church. When Christians began to celebrate the birth of Jesus (sometime in the 500s A.D.), it seemed logical for them to prepare for it with great care. What resulted was a season of preparation that lasted about four weeks before Christmas (December 25th). Early Christians thought of Christ’s coming not only in terms of the past (as a child in Bethlehem) but also in terms of the present and the future. For them, Christ came to earth in the past but comes to us now in Word and Sacrament and human need, and he will come again at the end of the world. Because the Second Coming will be in the future, the prayers, readings and hymns of the Church through the early part of Advent (before December 17th) focus on the final judgment and the end of the world as we know it.
It can seem a little strange that the themes of the early days of Advent seem a little dark – especially as we prepare for the happy days of the Christmas season. For most of us, the fun of Christmas time cannot start soon enough. It becomes very easy to overlook the more solemn significance of Advent. A real concentration on Advent makes it a little harder to sell Christmas presents at the stores, so if we take Advent seriously, we may feel a little out of step with our families and friends, and especially the wider commercial culture.
For centuries, the Church has divided its thoughts about the end of world into “four last things” – death, judgment, hell, and heaven. These certainly are solemn themes, but this solemnity is filled with a certain quiet joy as we realize that our Creator has ordered all things toward a good end, and that a new heaven and a new earth are part of that plan. So solemnity does not equal sad! There can be as much joy in preparing for a celebration as in the celebrating itself. In fact, it is the excitement of anticipation for Christmas that gives us insight into the kind of excitement that we might feel concerning our anticipation of these “last things.”  
Use the time of Advent to prepare. Allow yourself the time you need to ponder and to wonder about the mysteries of God as we prepare. Allow our preparations for Christmas to become a model for how we prepare ourselves for our personal experience of “the last things.” Let the beauty and quiet solemnity of this season enrich our understanding and draw us closer to the mystery at the center of our faith:
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Christina Rossetti

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Maybe they survived…because they were thankful.

Most of us know the story. It was the autumn of 1621. In Plymouth, Massachusetts, after a rich harvest, the men, women and children who had survived the first year in the New World gathered for a feast to offer thanks. One of the pilgrims wrote at the time: “By the goodness of God, we are so far from want.”
What was it like?  With some internet research, I found that the menu for that first Thanksgiving had some surprises. It was not necessarily turkey and pumpkin pie. They probably ate venison. The pilgrims didn’t have forks; they used spoons, and, more than likely ate with their hands. The food was probably a lot more fatty than we are used to. High cholesterol numbers were unheard of and of little concern in their harsh lifestyle. The first pilgrims were more worried about plague and the pox than about lifestyle diseases.
They didn’t have much sugar, so sweets and desserts were probably not on the menu. So, forget the pumpkin pie; it probably wasn’t there. But whatever it may actually have involved, that autumn feast left us with an enduring tradition: people gathering around a table, giving thanks for surviving in an uncertain and difficult new place.
A few years ago, the Unitarian minister Peter Fleck suggested we look at all this a bit differently. “Maybe,” he wrote, “the pilgrims weren’t thankful because they had survived. But maybe they had survived…because they were thankful.
These were people who lived their lives in wonder and hope, grateful for everything: the hard winds and deep snows…the frightening evenings and hopeful mornings …the long journey that had taken them to a new place. They knew how to express gratitude.
Gratitude doesn’t always come easily. We all know that generosity – the giving of a gift – means thinking more about others than about oneself. It represents an act of love. But so does being thankful. To give thanks is to extend beyond oneself. It is to remember whence comes the gift.
There is love in that. A love for the gift – and for the one who gave it.
Reverend Fleck suggested that maybe that is what enabled those pilgrims to thrive and prosper: a humble appreciation for whatever God gave them, trusting that He would give them what they needed. It’s an optimistic message, really — and gratitude, I think, carries within itself a spirit of optimism. Maybe that spirit can teach us something, as we endure our own hard winds and deep snows – the storms of our own lives. Especially now.
Later this month, Ken and I will travel to Delaware, where we will gather with family and friends for a grand Thanksgiving dinner. There will be 8 or 10 of us and we will share turkey with all the trimmings. Thanksgiving will be a time for family and friends who form a family of the heart, and for celebration.
But I know it won’t be that way for everyone.
The other day, I was passing the McDonald’s near our home. There was a big sign taped to the window. I think it tells us something about America this autumn. The sign said: “Open 24 hours on Thanksgiving Day.” For a lot of Americans, that will be the place for feasting. That will be their holiday. It won’t involve a grand buffet with turkey and pumpkin pie. It will be a hamburger and maybe a milkshake. But even so, Thanksgiving isn’t about giving thanks for having a lot. It’s about giving thanks for just having. For being. For knowing that whatever we have, whether it is served on a china plate or a cardboard carton, all of it is a gift. The prayers whispered over a Happy Meal are just as precious to God as the ones said over the turkey and stuffing.
And all of us, no matter where we find ourselves praying, will be bound together by one simple word: grace.  At a few McDonald’s this Thanksgiving, I’m sure that grace will be said. And, I am just as sure of this: that grace will be present – the grace of gratitude – the grace of thanking God for whatever gift He gives. And in the giving, and in the receiving, and in the thanking, there is something that transcends time and place. There is love.

Love for what we have, and love for what we have been given. And love for the God who gives it. Because no matter how fierce the winds, or how unforgiving the storm, at least on this day we shall seek to remember that our God is near.

The pilgrims knew that. Nearly four centuries later, those pilgrims left us a legacy, and a lesson: a beautiful example of what it means to have an “attitude of gratitude.”It is an attitude we all need to nurture — not just today, but every day. Gratitude can open our hearts – and change our lives – if only we let it.

Or, as Reverend Fleck so beautifully put it: maybe the pilgrims weren’t thankful because they survived.
Maybe they survived…because they were thankful.
Happy thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

All Hallows' Eve a.k.a. Halloween

A lot has been said about Halloween of late – questioning its purpose or its religious (or anti-religious) perspective. Here is some information about the holiday – how it started and how it transformed into the only holiday that is a bigger retail bonanza than Christmas!

Halloween, celebrated each year on October 31, is a mix of ancient Celtic practices, Catholic and Roman religious rituals and European folk traditions that blended together over time to create the holiday we know today.  Straddling the line between fall and winter, plenty and paucity and life and death, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition.  It has long been thought of as a day when the separation between the spirit world and the world in which we live thins.  Consequently, it was believed that the dead could return to the earth.  The ancient Celts would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off any of these roaming ghosts.  The Celtic holiday of Samhain, the Catholic Hallowmas period of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day and the Roman festival of Feralia all influenced our modern holiday.  In the 19th century, Halloween began to lose its religious significance and became a more secular community-based children's holiday.  Although the superstitions and beliefs surrounding Halloween may have evolved over the years, as the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, people can still look forward to parades, costumes and sweet treats to usher in the winter season.

Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween.  Children often go in costume from house to house, asking for treats such as candy or sometimes money, with the question, "Trick or treat?"  The word "trick" refers to a (mostly idle) "threat" to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given.  In some parts of Scotland children still go guising. In this custom the child performs some sort of trick, i.e. sings a song or tells a ghost story, to earn their treats.

The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays dates back to the Middle Ages and includes Christmas wassailing.  Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2).  It originated in Ireland and Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy.  Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of "puling [whimpering or whining] like a beggar at Hallowmas."  The custom of wearing costumes and masks at Halloween goes back to Celtic traditions of attempting to copy the evil spirits or placate them, in Scotland for instance where the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white.

So, as you see, Halloween has religious origins. Like many of our holidays, it pre-dates the Christian experience.  But like others, it was “baptized” and transformed into a religious observance – and, sadly, like the same other holidays, continues to diminish its religious references in favor of commercial and secular understandings.

[Information gleaned from vairous sources including The History Channel]

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Go & Be

I have a soft spot in my heart for disciples involved in congregational growth and development. I love their passion, their sense of adventure, and the way they try innovative things. I love most of all their heart for reaching people who need a touch from the Living God. I love them. A lot.
Maybe it’s because I have a lot of colleagues that have or are currently doing it. It might even be because I’ve been involved in some heavy duty development work over the years. To this day, I still drive by buildings with a “For Lease” sign in the window and wonder, “Would that place work for an outreach center?” However, with most efforts like organizational or congregational development, you make a lot of mistakes. I’d like to talk about a few things that I wish I had known, done, or done better.
Go and Be - or - Come and See
Most of the time, especially when dealing with well-established parishes that are seeking renewal,. we have the philosophy that the church ought to be a place where you could invite a friend to ‘come and see’. It’s like that Samaritan woman that Jesus met at a well in the gospel of John … the one who ran back into town and said, “You gotta come and see this guy!” Usually, we seek to grow by using what some call an “attractional” model. Sometimes this works and we attract a few people, people that actually find Jesus in our community. I’m so grateful for the way God moves when that happens.
More importantly, I wish we could have more balance on the “go and be” side of ministry. It sometimes takes a while for parishes to be known as a place that ‘loves and serves our community’. I don’t believe that it’s an either/or when it comes to ‘come and see’ and ‘go and be’. It’s actually a both/and proposition. But y experience indicates that we should probably start with “go and be” before we get into the thick of the “come and see” phase of our ministry. I observe with great interest how some churches just show up and start building relationships, serving the poor, mentoring school kids, and making a difference in a community for months before they ever bring up the idea of sharing a weekend service. Then the invite to “come and see” flows out of the respect they have earned from serving their community.
Volunteer Staff
We have all kinds of volunteer leaders doing all kinds of ministry. But most importantly, each and all of them need to feel more “ownership.” Perhaps there is a way to acknowledge their ministries by creating official staff positions although they are "non-stipendiary" (i.e. non-paid) positions. They could then participate in staff meetings where we can laugh about our foibles, study God’s Word, and pray for those in our community experiencing difficulties. I would want them to feel every bit of ownership as the few of us on staff often feel. We could use a few interns as well. What a great learning experience for college students that are thinking about ministry. Plus we could use a bit more help … for almost free :).
Raising Money
Although God supplies every spiritual gift we need, I wish, as the point leader, I could steer us toward finding greater financial resources: raising more than we think we need. This is the outcome fo having a theology of abundance! It is no less stressful, sometimes living one or two offerings away from hard and difficult times. But again, if we are honest with ourselves, we find that God provides and there isn’t nearly as much need for all that stress.  Generous people will be involved if you ask. We just need to ask more clearly and more often.
Creating a Band of Disciples
While we have a great team and great people at St. Luke’s, I have found that we need to participate in more networks, training, and mentoring for our paid staff and volunteer ministers. We need to take advantage of the conferences, retreats, and other opportunities as offered by our diocese (and our neighboring dioceses as well). We need to seek out more friends who are in the same circumstances season as we.
It's About Getting Down and Dirty
Not long ago, I participated in a CREDO conference sponsored by the Church Pension Group. While the conference centered on my health and well-being, I can remember taking a day of prayer, on the mountainside where the retreat center was located. It was a great time of writing, journaling, praying, taking a nap, singing, watching nature in all of its wonder. Upon returning, one of my small group member jokingly asked me, “Did you hear from God up on Mt. Sinai?” I said, “Yep. I did.” He told me, “It’s about people, stupid.” We are so often concerned about buildings, budgets, and strategic five year plans that we can lose sight of the hurting people that Christ sends us to reach. You can do that you know. I often need that reminder.
If we really want to grow and develop, maybe we need to remember four of the coolest words in the Bible -- found in the story of Jesus and the woman caught in the act of adultery. The Pharisees set her up, use her, and throw her down in the dirt in front of Jesus. They incite the crowd to pick up stones to hurl at her for her sins. And while everyone is towering over this broken woman … these four words jump off the page … “BUT JESUS STOOPED DOWN.” He got in the dirt with her. He didn’t condemn her or condone her sin. He just got down in the dirt with her. Let’s not get lost in the strategies of “church-world” and forget that the core of Jesus’ ministry is seen in this story: to get in the dirt with hurting, messy, broken people. God still reminds me today, “It’s about people.” Maybe we all need that reminder, too.

Father Zwifka continues to teach in the Bishop Dean T Stevenson School for Ministry in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. Apart from academic pursuits, he guides an internship seminar for people discerning a vocation and is a lead developer in the new Vital and Effective Ministry Institute for new clergy and clergy new to their cures. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

What do you treasure most?

What do you treasure most?

There are many times in life that we may be placed at a crossroads. By this I mean that we may come to a point at which a crucial decision must be made that will have far-reaching consequences. This Sunday’s Gospel Lesson presents just such an occasion. (Mark 10:17-27, “The Rich Young Man”). In this story, a seemingly virtuous young man comes to Jesus and earnestly asks what he more he must do to inherit the Kingdom of God. He has “kept the commandments”, that is, he has lived a righteous life by the standard of his day. Jesus accepts this offering from him but puts to him yet one more challenge – Jesus tends to do that – there is always something more!
‘Go, sell everything you have and give [the proceeds] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, what did he do? “He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” Jesus demonstrates a fundamental truth: nothing we can do can fit us to “inherit the kingdom.”  No matter how righteously we live, it is not enough. One thing more, Jesus says, “Follow me!” Jesus placed this man at a crossroads – at a point where he would have to make a crucial decision that would indeed have far reaching consequences – consequences for his eternal life!

Jesus was, in effect, asking this man what he treasured most – was it really the kingdom of God? Was it eternal life? If so, then all he had to do was leave all his “stuff” behind and follow where Jesus was lead. We know the man’s answer and it is pitiful – we pity him because it becomes clear that he valued his “stuff” more than he valued what Jesus had to offer in a life filled with the power of the Kingdom of God.

What is scary about this story, at least to me, is that we are often placed at these same crossroads by our Savior. We are often placed in a situation to make a decision that can have lasting consequences. Perhaps those consequences may not be as profound as choosing between our “stuff” and eternal life in after a moment’s reflection – but they are consequential decisions nonetheless.

On an almost daily basis, Jesus asks us, as he did this young man, what we value most. He asks us to choose: follow me or keep your “stuff” – whatever that “stuff” may be. It may not be great wealth. It may not be a lucrative job – but it may be just as difficult a choice – and Jesus expects us to choose.

As much as we may love and trust Jesus, it is possible that we love and trust in something or someone else more. What we need to realize is that anything short of the kingdom of God cannot provide the full and lasting joy, satisfaction, and security that we earnestly seek deep within our hearts. These things can be found only in hearts that have “left all behind” to follow the way Jesus leads.

In that young man Jesus has us look in the mirror and ask an all-important question: He is not asking us to give to the church all my money and possessions, essentially taking a vow of poverty like a monk or nun. He is not telling us that the key to the kingdom is to live in destitute poverty Rather, Jesus is asking us to get rid of the things that can get in the way of Jesus being our greatest treasure. He is the “crossroads question”: is there anything in this world that you would find too painful to give up if Jesus asked you to? Is there anything in the world that would make your face fall and lead you to shake your head No saying to Jesus, “Lord, I just can’t”? Is there anything on earth that would lead you to walk away from Jesus sad, grieving his loss, rather than the loss of that earthly thing? Is there anything you are more afraid to lose and miss than Jesus? your family? your favorite sin? your finances? The question is all about putting Jesus and the work of the kingdom first in our lives.

What DO we treasure most? That is the question. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

That the sense of our weakness may add strength to our faith

Love of God is a strange thing to our culture. This is the land of the prenuptial agreement, the careful negotiation of territory (physical and moral), the angry defense of right and privileged (real and perceived).  It is interesting to me that all the while, when we as a nation and a culture proclaim that we are religious, not far below the surface, we are actually a people who value the “art of the deal.”

That’s the funny thing about the love of God (not our love for God but God’s love of and for us). The comforting thing is that this love of God was no more or less strange in the land and culture of Jesus: we read in the gospels that it took even his closest friends a long time and a lot of mental gymnastics to grasp it fully. Peter, James, John, Mary Magdalene were not always able to or ready to understand its nature as absolute and without limit. Perhaps this is the reason they were not able easily to recognize the Risen Christ – so gutted and disappointed were they about their friend’s agonizing death on the cross that they had no eyes to see his risen glory right in front of them.

Is that the way it is with us? When was the last time we found it hard to believe, to be a person of faith? How many times have we heard our doubts expressed in comments like this – if there was a God, how could he let this thing happen?

When we see or hear or feel this, it is time for us to recall that God’s limitless love for us is signified by a cross. Even God, the only one for whom pain is not a necessity does not avoid that pain, does not escape its grasp. In the midst of that which breaks our hearts in two, God remains to abide with and to comfort. Sometimes, it takes that fracture to allow God finally to enter hearts that have been hardened along the way.

We do not know why things happen the way they do, but we know from the great cloud of witnesses that has preceded us, that time and time again, God can yet bring life out of the darkness and the silence even of death itself. When we doubt God’s goodness profoundly, God makes the move – God enters our ruptured hearts and acts to transform the ashes of our sorrow into still greater love.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Funny how things change

For quite some time, those who study our society have been telling us that we are in a time of change. Frankly, I think that is somewhat obvious. For instance, in our kitchen at home is a wall phone - I know some of you don't know what that is! However, for many of us, we remember a black, or beige box with a handset and, of all things a ROTARY DIAL! When we purchased our home, we decided to leave the phone on the wall as a sort of novelty (it goes with the rest of the kitchen, which is circa 1968). At a family Christmas event, one of the youngsters wondered "what that thing was" near the kitchen door. They had never seen such a thing -- much less knew how to use it. Think of the change this represents -- rotary dial "standard issue Bell telephones" as opposed to the plethora of choices we have as we walk by a mobile device (notice I don't use the term "phone") kiosk at the local big box store. Even the word "dial" has become a word-of-art (a term that no longer has an obvious meaning) since one "dials" a number even though there is no "dial" in sight -- not even push buttons -- only heat sensitive areas on a mini computer screen that fits neatly in my shirt pocket. There was a time everyone knew what a phone was - they were all the same - they all worked the same way. Now however, there is only diversity - no two devices are alike and one might need a degree from M.I.T. to figure out which one is best for our own purposes -- unless you're 12 -- those folks seem to have the right answers without a degree.
Maybe the phones we use to communicate are a metaphor for our lives, especially our lives in community. in 1969, if you were an Episcopalian, you worshiped like all other Episcopalians. You used the same prayer book, the same scripture readings, the same hymnal. The rubrics (liturgical directions) were the same no matter where you were. Maybe there was Morning Prayer instead of Holy Communion - but if there was, it was done the same way Morning Prayer was done in every church that did it!
You had the same administrative groups and committees that met on weekday evenings. You had the same Christian education, the same youth league, the same Episcopal Church Women, the same Altar Guild activities. Our mission dollars were sent to "poor" countries to establish new churches in far away places. The assumption was that if you were an Episcopalian, you did the same things all other Episcopalians did, and if you were looking for a church all you had to do was look for the "red doors" and you were home. Just like our phones (and refrigerators, and stoves) it was pretty much a "one size fits all" world. Uniformity and familiarity were core values in just about every part of our society -- being different meant you were wierd and to be avoided at all cost.
Funny how things change.
We no longer live in a world that values sameness. In fact, our culture now embraces and honors diversity in ways we could never have imagined. Just as people now expect to find phones in a seemingly unending array of choices, people seeking a shared faith require congregations to offer paths and programs to meet the specific and unique needs and desires. The temptation that results is to offer worship services specifically designed for the worshipers we hope to attract, short-term task forces that will accommodate the busy lifestyle of members in ways that standing committee structures cannot, several women's groups that fit the age and interests of their participants, and ways to support mission and outreach programs that have a special appeal for each congregation. We can no longer assume that one Episcopal parish will be like another, in fact, where there is more than one Episcopal congregation in an area, it seems that we strive to differentiate ourselves from one another and, as a result, end up competing for members.
There isn't any easy solution to this apparent problem - except to realize that no matter how much diversity we believe we need, all of it must point to one ultimate reality - the mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What all of this diversity has taught me over the years is that there is no "cookbook" way to get to the heart of the Gospel -- it is a life-long journey that must be taken by one and by all. The purpose of our parish is not to enforce uniformity or to demand diversity but to provide the spiritual companionship that is necessary for the traveling, for the pilgrimage, which is demanded by Christ -- that is, to take up one's cross and follow where the Master leads.
We mustn't try too hard, then, to "get it right" since there is not an "it" to get. There is only the relationship to which Christ calls us, a relationship that can only be lived by recognizing the heart of Christ in one another on the way. In this, we will only be with one another for a time, whether short or long but only temporarily nonetheless. In this, what we know now will be different tomorrow and that's O.K. -- as long as we hold fast to the good news in Jesus Christ who is "the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow."

In the loving heart of Christ,

Monday, September 14, 2015


Waiting . . . .

My doctor usually has me do my blood labs a week or two before my regular appointment. That has become rather routine for me. But once in a while, when something doesn’t seem quite right, he’ll order labs and tell me that he should have the results in a day or so – or at least “preliminary” results. This happened to me the day before I started at St. Luke’s. He thought I might have Lyme disease (I don’t). That “24-48 hours” waiting time can become excruciating. No matter how benign the outcome may or may not be, that kind of waiting can only be experienced with a great deal of anxiety hovering about the edges. Two days in, I am told that prelims are negative. Five days later, the final verdict is that his suspicions were wrong. Relief – for a moment – but then what is making me tired and achey? More waiting.
As I have grown older I have become more familiar with waiting. Not waiting in the way that one can’t wait to turn 16 and get a driver’s license; but the kind where it seems time moves at an ever quickening pace, faster than we want, life still opening, filled with hope and experience, all precious and cherished, but flying by.
It occurs to me that our living is filled with times of waiting. One of the secrets of life in such times is to live fully into whatever time we have with whatever is going on within and around us. While I wait, whether it is at a stop light, a six mile backup on I-81,  or in a doctor’s office, I consciously open my mind, senses and imagination to the to the holy, to the place of peace in being that I know as prayer.
That’s kind of where we, at St. Luke’s, are now. We are in a time of waiting – waiting to see who God will call to be our next pastor, teacher, leader. Like other kinds of waiting, it does not give us license simply to sit back and put everything on hold. Instead, it gives us an opportunity to live fully into this time we have with one another as we carry on the work of the Gospel. It is a time to open our minds, our senses, and our imaginations to the holy at work among us – to a time of prayer and growth in patience as we wait to see what marvelous thing God is doing.
There is no doubt that this time brings anxiety – no matter what we tell ourselves, it can’t but be true. It’s the natural course of things. What we do with all that anxiety, however, will make all the difference. When we experience the normal feelings of fear and worry that are part of any serious waiting, let God transform them into the eagerness and anticipation that will bring us all to a new day.
May a spirit of hope and encouragement flow into the very center of your self that place so deep within, where you simply -- are.
In the loving heart of Christ, I remain,