Monday, August 22, 2016

The Eucharistic Lifestyle


It is an exciting day! Your new Priest in Charge, Brian Raiche officially begins his ministry with you today and assumes the responsibilities and privileges that come with the office. Congratulations to you. It is a day worth celebrating. It is a whole new beginning!

As for me, the time has come to conclude my work with you and retire for the sixth time. 

Before I take my leave from this church, however, there is one last thing I would like to share with you. It is a lesson I struggle to remind myself of every single day of my life. It is a lesson the disciples had difficulty learning from the outset. We, the the followers of Jesus, often begin with our anxiety over one thing or another, how little we have and lets face it, we complain. Its too hot. Its too cold. There isn’t enough money. Work is getting to us. Somebody is driving us to distraction. And on and on it goes. 

On the other hand, Jesus begins with giving thanks and distributing what little there is, until all have their fill and then, when we collect the left overs there are 12 more baskets full, interestingly enough, one for each of the disciples. An ample amount to fill the needs of all. We called it a miracle then. But when we give thanks, miracles do happen. This is how Jesus satisfied the hunger of the 5,000. Days later there were 4,000 and the same anxiety attack strikes. Again they say we don’t have enough. Jesus upbraids them; do you still not get it? Give thanks for what you have, share it, and there will be more than enough for all and more besides.

There is a lesson in all this if we wish to live a Eucharistic life. And learn it we may, and remember it we must day after day if we wish to live the Joy of Jesus. My default position tends toward anxious fear over whether there will be enough. But Jesus always begins by giving thanks, breaking bread, and distributing what there is among all that are gathered. And there is always enough.

This lesson is at the heart of our humanity. At the birth of the savior the angels greet Mary and the Shepherds with the reassuring words “Fear not!”. Jesus says the same thing and repeats it time and again at his resurrection; “Fear not!”. In life as in death it is the same thing! And yet we retreat time and again back into our fears as if that were our default setting.

We are called to be the Easter People! Let me encourage you to remember that our Baptism calls us to give thanks with Jesus. This is our new default setting: to give thanks in all things and for all things. To do Eucharist is to do thanksgiving. This is at the heart of our very worship and spirituality. What is it we say?
“Lift up your hearts
"Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
"It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”

Alas, will we continue to be anxious and fretful over our household budgets? Of course! Will your vestry fuss over property and money matters. Most assuredly so. We’re likely to forget everything Jesus is trying to tell us.

But try to remember, it is not I who am encouraging you to begin with gratitude. It is Jesus who sets the example. It is the biblical narrative that sets the tone for gratitude throughout.

In today’s first lesson Isaiah reminds us of God’s abundant love;
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;”
Imagine! We have been consecrated to God’s service. There’s a reason for profound gratitude not only as servants of God in our every day lives, but as the folk the Church of the Good Shepherd.

Likewise the Psalmist exults in today’s appointed psalm;
“5 For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
my confidence since I was young.
6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother's womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you.”

And talk of exultation, listen to these soaring words from the Letter to the Hebrews which we heard read to us just moments ago;
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven”
How can one’s heart be anything other than grateful to know the grace given unto us in our Baptism and in our Eucharistic fellowship?

The Gospel proclamation today tells us of a woman who had been crippled for 18 years. She stood up straight and of course she praised God. How could she not? The leader of the congregation, however fussed about healing on the sabbath day, when Jesus rather directly confronted him with theses words; 
“Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.”
Notice the joy, the praise and the rejoicing in all these encounters with the living God.

This is our invitation. When we are afraid or anxious over one thing or another, especially over the issue over whether there will be enough to go around, remember that Jesus tells us to begin with giving thanks, breaking bread, and sharing of whatever we have. Then, what seems like so little to us becomes an abundance for everyone.

Having said all this, I wonder how Cindy and I will make ends meet in the weeks and the months ahead. The extra income is nice. But having said that I am called to remember what I am telling you; anxiety over what little we have does not lead to sufficiency or abundance. Rather it is gratitude for what we do have and learning how to share that gratitude with others that leads to joy!

From the earliest days of my ministry and our marriage, we have given to God in proportion to what God has given us. The biblical tithe is 10%. That is a lot of money. But what about 5%. That’s still a lot of money, but since the beginning, we know that as we share in proportion to what we have been given, more always comes back to us by some miraculous calculus in God’s economy. As we cast our bread upon the waters we never cease to be amazed, perfectly amazed at how the gracious goodness of the Living God becomes an abundant source that provides not only enough of what we need, but also an abundant source beyond what we could possibly have imagined.

Which brings us up to this day. As you prepare for your pilgrimage together, please know that not all your days will be easy. I am reminded of the time when things were going rather badly for Moses. It was in Numbers, Chapter 11
“Now when the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes…the Israelites also wept again, and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’ (Never mind the brilliant series of miracles that brought the people out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the wilderness, and the miracle of manna itself, which appeared each morning providing sufficiency for their hunger.) “Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents…So Moses said to the Lord, ‘Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favour in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child”, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, “Give us meat to eat!” I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favour in your sight.”
Bad case of clergy burnout there! So how did God handle this faith crisis? He spoke into the heart of Moses and said;
‘Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself.  ~Numbers 11

A good example of community organizing there! As you become more and more of a congregation together, remember, this work is not the burden of the priest, the wardens and the vestry alone. This work is everyone’s work. 
God has consecrated all of you to this service.
Give thanks therefore in all things and miracles will happen for you right here at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Reading.

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul

Monday, August 15, 2016

Day by Day

Day by Day

The Pilgrimage we take this summer and throughout the year; indeed every day of our lives is a pilgrimage with God as our companion. Along with our friends and family, our co-workers, and many many more, we journey along; the daily turn. Much like a vine that grows in the sun, we begin to bear fruit and the vinedresser tends to us. 

The biblical image of the vine and the vinedresser is a theme that is used time and again throughout scripture. God, we are told in today’s first lesson, in fact sings a love song for his beloved vine. The Psalmist describes the care the vinedresser exercises in tending to the vine. The vinedresser expects us to bear fruit, good fruit.

I love grapes. I love the summer when the good peaches are in. Last week we were in Maine, with friends and those blueberries always taste extra good to me, especially when put in a pie! There is also the lobster, the crab and the fresh corn on the cob. Oh, what a feast we had with our dear friends where we shared not just the good food, but good conversation, many stories, and of course, gales of laughter. There was work to do too at the local lodge where the crabmeat luncheon brought the village together along with a generous supply of tourists. That was fun too, to rub shoulders with the locals. 

My grandmother and her family lived in Rockland, Maine many years ago, and I spent a little time in the town to scout out the old neighborhood where they lived. I went to the local Episcopal Church to see if they had any record of my grandmother’s family. Apparently they were not Episcopalians then. 

All these good fruits and vegetables and the goodness that come to us from the sea, are a sign of God’s goodness to us. In return God expects us to bear good fruit for service to God and to one another. We are to love God, and love one another. We are to be known for our generosity in forgiving and our courage in reconciling one another in the midst of our controversies. 

Paul notes in one of my favorite passages in the Bible that “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”

With our friends and our families being what they are we are blessed indeed, even if you end up with a family like I had. After all, on occasion my family could be a “mixed blessing”. 

Jesus takes note of what happens in family, political and cultural life. 
He says of us; 
“they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
More and more our politics are capable of dividing us. So much so, that when the conversation begins, it almost immediately ends when you find yourself in a place with one who disagrees. 
Race relationships divide us. “Black lives matter”. “Police lives matter”. “All lives matter.” 
Gun control. That one can generate more heat than wisdom.
The rich, the middle class and the poor.
And of course gender equality and marriage equality also can generate lots of controversy among family, friends, and certainly in the body politic of these United States of America. 
Theological differences are no longer confined to progressive and conservative, mainstream and evangelical, even Protestant, Catholic and Jew and Muslim.
Now we have to add into the mix those whose extremes will lead to violence in the name of God.

Jesus was aware of all this. Jesus said to us; “why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” The danger of all these divisions of course is that they lead inevitably to a collapse of cultures, and a realignment of power. 

Jesus in fact becomes very confrontative in today’s Gospel. So much so, it doesn’t sound like him to me. “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” If that’s what Jesus is here to do, then by God Jesus seems to be very much in our midst of the present reality.

Many of you will know the Limerick about the two cats from Kilkenny. It speaks to the matter of the self destructive nature of an insistent and self willed divisiveness;
Many of you will know it;
“There once were two cats from Kilkenny
Each thought there was one cat too many
So they fought and they fit
And they spat and they spit
‘Till instead of two cats there weren’t any.”

There are cracks in the very foundations of every aspect of our modern life. How then can God sing his love song for his beloved vine? And how to we reconcile a God who loves and tends to his vine and a savior who says; "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

The answer to that question is clear to me. Jesus seeks to divide those who tend to the “least of these”, those who feed the hungry, house the homeless, and tend to those in need from those who turn the other way. This is the division, the fire and the judgment Jesus is clear about. 

Jesus is looking for a vine that bears good fruit. He will look for a church to organize its life around the needs of the neighborhood and the community in which it is set. 

As you prepare for your new beginnings with your new priest you and he will have the grace to ask each other “What is God calling us to do?” “Who is God calling us to be for the sake of the world in which we find ourselves/“

The vine God loves, the vine for which God sings a love song is not just the membership of the church but for those who live outside our doors.

It was William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II who famously said that the church is the only organization on earth that does not exist for itself but for those who live outside it”.

You will remember Jesus asking Peter;
“Peter, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know that I do.”
“Then feed my sheep.”
A second time Jesus said; 
“Peter, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know that I do.”
“Then feed my sheep.”
A third time Jesus said to Peter
“Peter, do you love me?”
This time a little hurt, Peter insisted
“Yes, Lord, you know that I do.”
“Then feed my lambs.”

We cannot turn our heads away from the hurt, the injustice and the suffering all around us. God wants his beloved vine to bear fruit, good fruit, fruit that shall last. 

God wants to be in our hearts in our daily pilgrimage as we individually and as a church organize our lives around the needs of those around us.

Whether it is in the arts or the sciences, politics or social services, or just in rolling up our sleeves to feed the multitudes of physical and spiritual hunger, it is a matter that cries out from heaven itself that we live out our lives caring. 

I spent my teenage years at the Parish Church of St. Richard of Chichester in a western suburb of Toronto, Ontario (Etobicoke). Many of you will remember St Richard’s prayer, made famous by that enormously popular song from Godspell. As the collect for the day prays that we may follow in the blessed steps of Jesus holy life, so too St. Richard prays these lines; 
“Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.
Day by Day.”

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen

Fr Paul

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Change: The Only Constant

Change: The Only Constant

It is time now for us to prepare for yet another change. Your vestry has called a new priest to join you in your pilgrimage toward the Kingdom of God. In two short weeks, Brian Raiche will become your Priest in Charge and he and I will share worship responsibilities and I shall hand the keys of the parish over to your Senior Warden who will, in turn, hand them over to your new priest. 

We are in the process of change once again. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus is reputed to have said so long ago; “Embrace change, for change is the only constant.” 

Our lives are in constant flux. Yet, in the few months I have been with you since May, I hope I have provided some measure of stability to this wonderful congregation.

Many exciting possibilities are in store for you now. The fall season is upon you. Sunday school will be resuming before you know it. Even now, Brian Raiche is fixing up the office in order to prepare himself for assuming his responsibilities as your Priest in Charge. How exciting for you!

And I will be preparing to retire for yet a sixth time. As I prepare for that “retirement”, I will also need to prepare to make a presentation at the annual convention of the Diocese of Montana where I have been invited to speak on the matter of congregational development and evangelism. And following that, God willing, Cindy and I will fly to Florida to celebrate the marriage of our second son Joshua! Talk about excitement. Talk about change!

This pilgrimage we call life is full of its blessings and its challenges. Congregations in Montana are looking to grow. Joshua and his bride to be are looking toward a new chapter in their lives together. 

The Pilgrimage continues. 

In the midst of all these changes Jesus greets us with these words in today’s Gospel; “Don’t be afraid, little flock for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom”. Jesus calls us to be alert and to make purses for ourselves that do not wear out but prepare us for the Kingdom of God. 

What might that be? What does the Kingdom look like anyway? How do we prepare ourselves for such a thing? In building churches it requires loving our neighbors. And our neighbors include more than those who belong to the church. Vital and viable congregations have a clear sense of mission organized around the needs of their neighborhoods. Growing congregations have a clear vision of how to become more intentionally inclusive of new and prospective members. Faith becomes a part of the stories we tell to one another. Increasingly, we become more and more comfortable in sharing those stories among ourselves, our loved ones and eventually even perfect strangers. You are ready, you are alert to a whole new chapter in your pilgrimage as a congregation. 

In today’s Epistle, Paul says; “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Though not seen, faith is clear. Obedience to God makes possible those things we once thought impossible. Even in our marriages, as it was for Abraham and Sarah, so it is for us. God made it possible for them to have children even in their old age when the two of them were clearly “past it”. Still God counted it as righteousness when Abraham and Sarah believed. So too for us, as we believe and as we love one another the way God would have us love one another.  We learn to forgive and reconcile one another in moments of impossible challenge, God again makes the impossible possible. 

Even in the midst of our broken promises, God’s promises remain true. Many are broken by divorce, betrayal, disappointment, and yet God never gives up on us. God’s makes the impossible possible once again. God redeems all our days through the love God always bears toward us. 

As for the Church of the Good Shepherd. I rejoice with you in this new moment of change in your life. You will soon have a new priest, a new parish administrator and a new organist/ choir director. This is a very exciting time for you and in it God is showing you toward the Kingdom of heaven.

Yesterday the wider Church celebrated the feast day of the Transfiguration. On the Holy mountain the disciples saw Moses, Elijah and Jesus standing together, as the story goes. Moses representing the Law, Elijah representing the Prophets now find themselves succeeded by Jesus who is the Love of God made flesh and blood. Into the cloud Jesus and the disciples are taken up, God spoke and said: “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” 

Therefore in whatever set of changes we find ourselves we are called to be for others who Jesus was and is to us; namely the love of God made flesh and blood.

To make God’s love visible is to make Heaven visible to ourselves and to others. This is our faith; “the assurance of things hoped for” and “the conviction of things not seen”. Understand, that Heaven is not seen and yet is made clearly visible by this kind of Love.

This is what makes change necessary. God is not looking for religious ceremony or “sacrifices” alone, and says as much through the Prophet Isaiah in today’s first lesson. What matters more to God are the injustices, the poor and the oppression.
Therefore, the prophet says in today's First Lesson;
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.”

The sacred ministry of the church is ever evolving toward the kingdom of heaven. These are the "changes" God seeks.

Now that you and your new priest are preparing to come together you can work out the particulars of how God wants you to put the love of God into the flesh and blood of your common life. 

It is this mission that makes our Pilgrimage so exciting and so fulfilling. That which was only an unseen hope now becomes so vividly clear.

You and Brian Raiche have been called to journey on in your Pilgrimage toward heaven. Do remember him in your prayers, as he remembers you in his. It is an exciting time. It is a hopeful time. Faith makes the impossible possible. Faith makes the invisible visible. 

We find ourselves set in a world that often fails to see that in the seas of constant change faith is our anchor. Just this week I came across these lines from the tradition of Celtic Spirituality. I find in the imagery of these lines a reminder that God is at the very heart of every human soul.  
Francis J. Roberts writes; 
"Many a ship has sailed from port to port
with no interference from Me,
because Strong Will has been at the wheel.
Multitudes of pleasure cruises
go merrily on their ways,
untouched by the power of My hand.
But you have put your life into My keeping,
and because you are
depending on Me for guidance and direction,
I shall give it.
Move on steadily,
and know that the waters that carry you
are the waters of My love and My kindness,
and I will keep you on the right course."
~Frances J. Roberts, Celtic Daily Prayer

In the Name of God the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen

Fr Paul