Wednesday, November 22, 2017



"Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
- Thanksgiving Day, BCP 246

As we prepare for tomorrow's Thanksgiving feasts, either mentally or physically, let us also remember those who we are interdependent on for all the aspects of our Thanksgiving. None of us are alone in this community, we are dependent on others and we pray for their work and their needs. Especially as we turn from Thanksgiving into Black Friday and the shopping season in preparation of Christmas, let us be mindful of those who do not have the ability to serve a feast or buy presents.

For the farmers and ranchers who grow and harvest the fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and meats we will be eating.
Let us give thanks!

For the laborers who process the food, getting it ready for consumption and nourishment.
Let us give thanks!

For the drivers and engineers and logistics coordinators who transport food across the country so that all can partake.
Let us give thanks!

For the workers who stock shelves and serve the community so that food can be purchased and shared.
Let us give thanks!

For the preparers of food, at home, in restaurants, in churches, in communities which will share together their love.
Let us give thanks!

For all the community gathered together, let us give thanks to God for all our blessings.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Blessing Box


"Bless, O Lord, this food to our use and us to thy service. Keep us ever mindful of the needs of others, in Jesus' Name we pray. Amen."

Growing up as a child, this was the grace I learned to say before every meal. At first, each of us, my brothers and I, would rotate as to who was sitting in the 'grace chair' and had to say grace before the meal. It was always interesting to see how each of us said the same thing slightly differently. One of my brothers was a speed demon and said the words so fast we couldn't always understand what he was saying. Because of this, our family started a tradition of being mindful of the knees of others, not necessarily their needs... though as my Dad, a man with reoccurring knee problems, likes to say, everyone's knees do need the prayers and help.

As we near the Thanksgiving holiday and think about all the things we are thankful for in this world, we have to give thanks for the food we eat on a daily basis. Unfortunately, even in lovely Victorian Franklin, not everyone has enough to eat on a daily basis. St. John's is doing wonderful ministry to help all those who are in need of some food help by offering groceries at Shepherd's Green Community Food Pantry.

Another way St. John's is giving thanks this season and being mindful of the needs of others, is through our new Blessing Box. Through the leadership of the Vestry, the Blessing Box is now a place for non-perishable food ideas and personal care items to be exchanged in our community. People are invited to take a blessing if they need one, or leave one if they would like to share their gifts with others. You will find the new Blessing Box at the junction of the front sidewalk with the ramp sidewalk. It was built by Mark and the Vision Quest students and installed by them this week. Also, they built it at a height compatible for all, children, those in wheelchairs, tall adults, even those with knee problems. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Proper 27

Three certainly is the magic number.
Last week we had three kinds of saints.
There are three aspects of God.
There are three sides of a triangle.
This week there are three kinds of apocalypse.

This is going to be important.
Not only for this week's Gospel story,
but also for the whole season of Advent,
just a couple of weeks away.

They say this story about the Ten Bridesmaids is an apocalyptic story.
However, when most of us think of apocalypse, we tend to think of it in two ways.
Either in the sense of natural disasters ending the world, the first type of apocalypse,
or in the sense of man-made destruction ending the world, the second type of apocalypse.

You know the movies, 2012, Deep Impact, 28 Days Later, Armageddon...
Hollywood loves making these movies.
We have a unparalleled fascination with the end of the world.
The story of the Ten Bridesmaids is about neither kind of apocalypse.
There isn't a natural disaster or a man-made disaster in the story at all.
Unless you see missing a wedding feast as a man-made disaster.
Even still, the world doesn't end.

No, the story of the Ten Bridesmaids is about the third type of apocalypse.
The word apocalypse means unveiling, uncovering, disclosing.
The third type of apocalypse is a revelation of truth.
Which for some people would certainly end their worlds.
So the story of the Ten Bridesmaid is apocalyptic literature because it unveils or uncovers or discloses a truth.
Jesus shares this story with his disciples in order for them to know the truth.

The truth about what?
The kingdom of heaven.

How is the kingdom of heaven like the story of the Ten Bridesmaids?

Naturally, in order to actually uncover the truth of this story, we have to understand the metaphors and allegories Jesus is using in the story.
Let's take it apart.

The Bridegroom.
The Bridegroom in the story basically does three things. He is delayed, he arrives and processes, and then he does not let the five foolish bridesmaids into the banquet.
It was typical in the first century that the groom would process either from his family's house to his bride's house or vice versa, depending on where the wedding was being held.
Sometimes delays did happen before weddings,
for the reasons they happen today, cold feet,
but also because negotiations between the families required last minute renegotiation, 
or troubles along the way, if the distance between the families was far.
It doesn't matter in the story, delays happened and people were expected to prepare for them.
The groom does arrive and expects his escort to his bride with light in the darkness.
Light in the darkness, huh?
Doesn't that have scriptural overtones?

In the metaphor, Jesus himself is the bridegroom.

The Bride.
The bride is never actually mentioned in this story.
For Matthew's readers, it would have been well understood that the Church itself was Jesus' bride.

The Banquet
Wedding feasts in the first century were well known to go on for a whole week.
Seven days of food, laughter, family, dancing, and more food.
And wine.
Gallons of wine.
A wedding feast broke the tedium of daily living in the first century and you certainly didn't want to miss out on any wedding feasts you were invited to.
Metaphorically the feast is what we call Eschatological Messianic Banquet Imagery.
Meaning, we use a wedding feast,
well known for its abundance and blessing and inclusiveness
to describe the joyous heavenly inclusion and abundance of when Jesus and his faithful followers are reunited at the end of all time.
I hope it is not lost on you the significance of food and its abundance in Christianity.
We remember and look forward to this feast of heavenly glory every week when we participate in Communion.
This is not a feast you want to be missing.

Which leads us to...
The Bridesmaids
This story has ten Bridesmaids.
Ten, in Jewish tradition, was a number of perfection.
Ten was the number needed to start a synagogue or have a worship service.
Typical weddings had ten bridesmaids.
They were supposed to be virgins and friends of the bride.
Usually the ten bridesmaids would wait for the groom and escort him with light in the darkness.
They were supposed to bring a lamp and enough oil for the procession.
And any unforeseen delays.
The lamps they had with them were jars with cloth wicks which would be hung from sticks and carried in the air to provide light and a festive atmosphere.
More like torches.

Now the ten bridesmaids we have in our story today are pretty much all the same.
They arrive on time to wait for the groom.
They all have their lamps.
They all fall asleep.

This is important to note.
All of them fall asleep.
All of them have their lamps.

The difference between the two groups of bridesmaids is not their presence or their wakefulness or even not being prepared.
It is amount of oil they carry with them.
Which isn't something that is apparent.
Oil makes a difference.

Do you know that song?

Give me oil for my lamp, keep me burning.
Give me oil for my lamp, I pray.
Give me oil for my lamp, keep me burning for the Lord,
keep me burning to the break of day.

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
sing hosanna to the Servant king
sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
sing hosanna, let us sing.

The oil the bridesmaids in the story were using was olive oil.
Plain old olive oil.
Nothing special.

Yet, some of the early Christians would even bring olives and olive oil to the Sunday services to be blessed.
Some of the early Christian texts have prayers for olive oil.

And while we may think it kind of odd that the five foolish bridesmaids try to go buy olive oil at midnight,
they do find someone to buy oil from in the middle of the night.

See, the Greek text of this story says that the five foolish bridesmaids didn't bring any oil.
None at all.

But the plain old olive oil was special.
Because the metaphorical understanding of the oil is faith.
They didn't have any faith.

Well, we have taken it all apart and now it is time to put it back together.
How does the story of the Ten Bridesmaids reveal truth about the kingdom of heaven?

Jesus is the long awaited groom,
coming for his bride, the Church.
Once they are together,
there is going to be a joyous, abundant, heavenly banquet.
And all those with faith, waiting and ready,
being the light in the darkness,
will be welcomed into the wedding banquet.

The kingdom of heaven is open to all those with faith.

At the end of the parable, Matthew tells his readers to keep awake
because we do not know the day or the hour that Jesus the groom is coming .
Which is true.
However, we saw in the parable that what makes the difference was not
being awake,
because all the bridesmaids had fallen asleep and had to be woken up when the groom arrived,
but having oil,
having faith in Jesus' coming.

Where do you put your faith?
Do you have enough oil in your lamp to keep you burning until the break of day?

May God give each and every one of us enough oil of faith to be the light in the darkness of this world.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Courage and Collaboration in Christian Community

This year for Diocesan Convention the theme is Courage and Collaboration in Christian Community. The theme highlights the focus of the program for Convention, which starts today, on the possibility of collaboration with the Diocese of Western New York. No one would disagree that both dioceses are part of the larger Christian community of the world, and no one would disagree that as Christians we are called upon to have courage and to work together with others for the cause of Jesus Christ. The question which this Convention seeks to answer is how we can go about the work of collaboration together in faith and courage in our specific context as neighboring dioceses.

St. John's has sent three delegates to Diocesan Convention: Kaycee Reib, Kelly Bruckart, and Jeanne Reib, along with Deacon Dave and myself as its clergy. We are here at the Bayfront Convention Center in Erie to represent St. John's in the business of the Diocese and to add to the conversation about how collaboration with the Diocese of Western New York might impact and enrich the congregation of St. John's. I hope you will take some time on Sunday to talk to one of our delegates about their experience at Convention and their experience of being together with other Episcopalians from around this region. Courage and collaboration starts with each one of us working together!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Stewardship Questions and Answers, Part 6

What is the plan for reaching that vision?
The plan for reaching our vision is to engage people in weekly worship, classes and small groups, and fellowship so that people can learn and grow in their relationship with God.

How do I work towards tithing from where I am now?
The best way is to start by increasing your giving percentage a little bit. Some people look at where they are now and plan to increase by a percent every year until they are able to tithe. Perhaps you want to step it up faster, try increasing by two percent each year.

How do I re-order my priorities to give more?
The best way to look at your priorities is to sit down with your budget. Figure out how much of your income is required for basic necessities; food, shelter, water. Then look at how much of what remains is required for any debts you might have. Once you’ve figured out how much spending money you have, decide how much you want to be able to give to the church, whether it is a set amount each week or month or a percentage of your total income. By looking at what you would like to give early on in the process, you are prioritizing giving back to God.

How do I get involved in ministries that I’m financially giving to? 
There are numerous ways to get involved through volunteering time to different ministries at St. John’s. Contact the church office to see who to talk to about volunteering in a ministry! 

What traction is the church making because of our generosity?
St. John’s Episcopal Church is well-known throughout Franklin and the surrounding area for being a part of the community, giving back to the community, and as a resource for the city.

Who has experienced life change because of our generosity?
Look no further than those who go to church camp, our young adults who grew up in the church, those who come to the food pantry every month, the graduates of the Emmaus Haven Shelter program, those who graduated from the Financial Peace University program, and those who come to church every Sunday for people who have had their lives changed because of the Good News proclaimed through the mission and members of St. John's Episcopal Church. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

All Saints' Day

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
- Book of Common Prayer, All Saints Day, p. 245

On November 1st every year, this past Wednesday, we celebrated All Saints' Day in the church. (We will also celebrate All Saints' Day on Sunday.) All Saints' Day is the feast of the church which celebrates the bond between those who have gone before us in the faith and those who are still living. It celebrates all the saints, recognized and unrecognized, who have changed the world through their belief in God.

While many people focus their energy on the celebration of Halloween each year, the celebration of All Saints' Day draws us back to the reality that we cannot be Christians alone. We are always and forever part of the body of Christ, part of the community of beloved children of God. The All Saints' celebration reminds us that whatever season of life we are in, being a parent, single, grieving, facing oppression, struggling with doubt or drugs or pain, overwhelmed with joy, there are those who have gone before us in the journey and been faithful to God throughout it all. Their stories are part of our family history, they are our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, mothers, fathers, and cousins. God binds us together and we can take hope and courage from their stories for our own lives.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Proper 25A

Sometimes I think humanity has the shortest short term memory ever.

Case and point:
God is constantly turning over the way of the world:
raising up leaders from messed-up sinners
setting people free from different kinds of evil
working miracles of love even through the stoniest hearted people who start welcoming former enemies into their lives...

And every time it happens
by it.

we are surprised by something that happens over and over and over again...
So often God's something new...
is actually really really old.

This is part of the reason we share the stories of the Bible over and over and over again.
Even the boring bits.

The passage from Deuteronomy today shares the story of the transition from Moses as leader of the Israelites to Joshua, son of Nun. On the surface, it is not that interesting... kind of boring, maybe a little sad.

God shows Moses the whole Promised Land, but God tells him he has to die first.
So Moses chooses his successor and then dies.
The Israelites mourn for Moses.
And then Joshua leads them into the Promised Land.

Yet, while that summary tells you what happens, it leaves out all the good stuff that the author made sure to write into the story.

First, Moses goes up on top of a mountain.
Which, in the Bible, means something significant is going to happen.
Anyone remember Mount Sinai? The Ten Commandments?
Yea, that took place on top of a mountain.
And remember, Moses is close to 120 years old...
Its a miracle he made it to the top of the mountain.

Then, God shows Moses all of the Promised Land.
Which, is impossible from the top of that mountain.
They say that on a clear day, one can see as far as Jerusalem from the top of Mount Nebo, however, one cannot see the Mediterranean, which is the Western Sea.
God showed him things he wouldn't have normally been able to see.

After seeing way more than can humanly be seen, Moses comes back down the mountain.
Seriously, I have never met a 120 year old with this much vigor.
Moses then dies and is buried in the valley.
The author specifically wants us to know that Moses dies with his sight unimpaired and his vigor unabated.
So it would seem.
Though that is not exactly what the author writes in the Hebrew.
What the author is trying to tell us is that Moses was supposedly still sexually active leading up to his death.

Why does the author want us to know this?

Because the Israelites were doing something totally new. They were starting a whole new nation. Not based on lineage or wealth, but based on the promise of God in relationship with them.
God had just set them free in one of the first successful slave revolts in known history.
Compared to the other gods known at the time, this new God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was setting people free instead of enslaving people.
Which is what the other gods did.
God was doing
Something new.

And here they are again. On the cusp of something new, about to enter the Promised Land.

The Israelites had spent so much time in Egypt asking the age old question
we continue to ask over and over and over again
Are our lives set in stone and unable to change or can we be set free from whatever it is that enslaves us?
Have you ever asked yourself that question?
Is my life stuck the way it is or can it change?
I have asked myself that question.
This is why we tell this story over and over and over again.
Because it answers the question with a huge, resounding, God-shaking-the-earth
We can be free.
This story is just one example, from five thousand years ago.
your life can change.
Their lives changed.
They were stuck in bondage. They were trapped by the malice of others.
They were stuck in a routine which ground them into the earth.
And God changed their lives.

So, they have started something new with God. And they get really excited about it. They want to share it.
That's what you do with Good News, you share it.
And they needed someone to share it with.
So they decide to teach it to their children.

Now you remember what the Egyptians had done to the Israelites when they were in Egypt land, right?
They killed their babies... 
so that there were not many children. 

That's why Moses went down the Nile river in a basket when he was a baby
to be found by the Pharaoh's daughter.

So now the Israelites had good news they wanted to share with their children and they didn't have that many children, so they had to create more.

And how do you create a lot of children?
Have sex.

The author is telling us that Moses was still participating in all the new stuff God was doing, even at 120 years old.
You are never too old or too young to be working with God.
God is always doing something new.

Then we come to the Gospel passage from Matthew.
God is doing something new here too.
Through Jesus.
The Pharisees come to Jesus with a question to test him.
Debate was the public forum of expressing opinions and teaching and sharing news
This kind of thing happened all the time.

The Pharisees ask Jesus a fairly tough question:
"which commandment in the law is the greatest?"

Remember, not only are there the Ten Commandments, there are 613 commandments written out in the book of Leviticus.
So choosing which is the greatest would take some serious study and skill.

But Jesus has done his homework and he gives the answer, 
the full summary of the law some call it.
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

In debate, once you have been asked a question and answered it, 
now it is your turn to ask a question.
Jesus does not disappoint.
He asks, "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?"

Jesus wants to know what the Pharisees think of what God is doing through sending a Savior to his people. 
Because God was doing something new with the Messiah.
For so many years, the people of Israel had thought that the Messiah was going to be saving them from the political forces of the world.
Which is part of the reason the Pharisee's answer is "The son of David." 
In order to undo the political injustices done to Israel throughout the years, the Messiah had to be a son of the most famous and God-chosen king, King David. 

Yet, Jesus was not there to save the people from the political forces of the world.
Jesus was there to save the people from something much much bigger.
God was doing something new.

God is always doing something new in our lives.
Unfortunately we are not always able to see it.
We get caught up in distractions and our own expectations and we miss what God is doing.

What is God doing in your life?
Is it something new?

Of course, it may be that God isn't doing something new,
God is doing something very very old
perhaps we are seeing it new

God is always at work in the world 
and at work in our lives.
Your life is Not set in stone. 
You are Not stuck in whatever is holding you hostage.
You are Not stuck enslaved to the institution, addiction, or emotional drama which is tiring you out.
Our God is a God who sets people free.
Who makes promises to us and is faithful to us
even when we are not faithful to God.
Put your faith in God and look for God at work.
God is doing something new today.