Thursday, December 14, 2017

Unity at St. John's and Grace

12/14

"As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."  - John 17:21b-23

In the 17th chapter of the gospel according to John, Jesus earnestly prays for his followers. In his long prayer to God, he covers many subjects, but one of the most prevalent ones is that he wishes that his followers will live together in unity. He asks God to bind together all his followers so that they will be one as he and the Father are one.

Unfortunately, Church history shows that Jesus' prayer has been desperately needed. Those of us who call ourselves Jesus' followers have seen fit to separate and divide ourselves in so many ways throughout the centuries. However, here at St. John's, we are working to reverse this trend of division by working closely together with our brothers and sisters of other denominations in our area.

This Sunday we are going to celebrate one such relationship. This coming Sunday we gather together, Episcopalians with Lutherans, to celebrate the special ministry and community we have become together. Through the hard work of clergy and lay people throughout the last couple of decades, St. John's Episcopal and Grace Lutheran have come together in fellowship, outreach, and study to be Jesus' followers in unity in Franklin. I hope you will be here to celebrate this historic occasion of unity and peace in the church!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Advent 2B

In the gospel of Mark
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ
Starts before Jesus is even on the scene.

It starts with Isaiah...
It starts with the prophets!
Isaiah being the representative
And then we get John.
The crazy evangelist.
Luckily
we don't all have to wear camels hair and leather
And eat honey and locusts.
Though I thought about bringing some in for coffee hour this week...

Any story really begins back before the main character
Many times I've heard people tell their life stories by beginning with their parents or grandparents,
because what comes before us makes a huge impact on who we are and what we do.

Personally I know the truth of this in my own story
My parents' stories have impacted my life in so many ways.
I am named after my mother's mother, Sharon,
who died in a car accident long before I was born.
Yet, her name, her legacy, and her death,
all impacted how I was raised and who I am today.

So when Mark begins his good news about Jesus
with stories that come before Jesus,
We know he is giving us history we need to know in order to make sense of the story.
That's one way we can count on Mark,
He only ever gives what he thinks are the most important pieces, and nothing extra.

Mark also gives away
Jesus' identity right at the beginning of the book.
There is no question in the gospel of Mark,
Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.
Jesus is the Son of God.
Mark will develop how he understands those titles and roles of Jesus'
throughout the whole book,
but he isn't afraid of telling you up front.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Mark chooses the passage from Isaiah
because John the Baptist was known for being loud in the middle of nowhere,
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.
The Jewish tradition was that Elijah would be the messenger
who would come before the Messiah
to let everyone know to get prepared.
You may have seen or heard of the tradition of leaving a seat for Elijah at Seder celebrations,
Always leaving room for God's plan to commence at any time.
Later on in the story,
John will get asked if he is Elijah
because many believe in his role as the messenger preparing the way.
John's message was the right one.
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.

Baptism, washing with ritually clean water,
was a common ritual in the First century.
People had to baptize, clean themselves,
using the prayers given
before they were able to enter the Temple
or before other important religious ceremonies.

Especially in the Essenes, a religious group of the first century,
most notable for hiding the scrolls of text which we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls today,
different kinds of baptism,
different kinds of washing,
were very important.
John the Baptist very frequently gets associated with the Essenes,
which was a group on par with the Pharisees and the Sadducees,
because of where he was located,
near the Jordan River,
and what he was proclaiming,
a baptism of repentance.

Now one of the interesting things about John
was that his baptism was done in the Jordan River.
If you've ever been to the Holy Land
or seen pictures of the Jordan River,
you'd know...
its not the cleanest looking river in the world.
Actually, in most places,
its quite muddy looking.
And for example,
here's a vial of Jordan River water I brought back with me
from when I was in the Holy Land and renewed my baptismal vows in the Jordan River.
Not the clearest water.

Just another example of God doing extraordinary things
with very ordinary materials.

John, as a human being,
as a character in the story,
very much knows his place.
In this passage, we hear him say,
"The one who is more powerful than I
is coming after me;
I am not worthy to stoop down
and untie the thong of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
John knows that he is not the main character,
that his role to help people get prepared for what is to come.

Its interesting that the way he thinks best for people to get prepared to meet the Messiah
the Savior of the world,
is through repentance.

Repentance is a long word
and has quite a bit of meaning associated with it.
Many think that repentance
is the act of saying sorry,
yet there is more involved in repentance
beyond simply saying sorry.
Repentance requires reviewing your actions,
feeling sincere remorse for actions done, or not done,
acceptance of responsibility for your own actions,
saying sorry,
and making a commitment to changing behaviors
so that such actions do not happen again. 

Repentance is a cleaning out of all the spiritual and emotional closets
you know those closets
the dusty, dirty ones
the ones with all the skeletons hanging out in them,
the old emotions which come back to haunt us
in certain situations or makes it hard to face certain people in our lives
or to trust them again.

The problem is that many in society today,
and we have seen this on the main stages of the entertainment and political worlds,
believe that saying sorry is all that needs to be done.
Actually feeling remorse, 
or committing to changing behavior
is not necessary 
for people to think other's should move on.

Yet, true repentance requires the whole process. 

John's call to repentance
is part of what makes Advent
"penitential"
in nature.
Penitential being the part of the process
where people make amendments to their lifestyles
or their relationships
in order to return to good, healthy, relationships.
The church has two penitential seasons,
Advent and Lent;
it is good to clean out the emotional and spiritual closets periodically.
And both seasons are seasons of preparation
for pretty major spiritual events.
The church has two major ways
it tries to help its people live into repentance.

First, in the General Confession which we say together
almost every week in our Sunday worship service.
Our General Confession comes,
before the Eucharist,
before we encounter Jesus 
in the Body and Blood 
of the bread and wine.
For a very good reason.

Our General Confession includes
what we have done wrong,
in thought, in word, or in deed.
Its not just the actions we do,
but also the thoughts and words we say or write or share
which can get us in trouble.
The General Confession includes
what we have left undone
for all the things we forget to do
or don't do spitefully
or we are not aware that we are apart of.
And not only is the General Confession about all the things we have done wrong to God
but it is also to our neighbors.
The General Confession comes before the Eucharist
so that when we take Jesus into our bodies,
we are ready to receive it,
we know where we stand 
and we aren't carrying too much spiritual baggage
which will get in the way 
of whatever work Jesus wants to do in our lives.

The second major way the church offers people help in living into repentance
is in the rite of Reconciliation,
available to all with a priest,
which goes more in depth
than the General Confession,
giving time and safe space
to acknowledging the wrongs done or left undone
out loud,
and accepting suggestions and council on how to change the behaviors
which lead to reoccurring issues.

In both the ways the church offers people a chance to repent,
the church also immediately offers forgiveness.
Jesus made it very clear 
that all those who repent 
and all those who forgive others
will receive forgiveness. 

(Forgiveness is such a huge part of our lives together,
especially for anyone who is married. 
Marriage brings about a huge opportunity to offer the grace of forgiveness
to each other
and is certainly one way in which marriages can continue to last 
throughout the hardships of life.

As we celebrate together today,
the anniversary of Matt and Pam's marriage,
we can also give thanks for the spirits of love, grace, and forgiveness
which has sustained them throughout their marriage.)

Many people who speak of difficulty
learning how to repent,
learning how to say sorry,
learning how to change their behaviors,
worry about whether or not they will be forgiven.
Through Jesus,
we have been promised
forgiveness of our sins,
forgiveness for all the things we have done wrong,
forgiveness for all the things we are complicit in
when we acknowledge our part in them
and seek to change our ways.

Listen to John's cry
listen to his call for repentance
Repent!
Clean out that spiritual closet!
Prepare for Jesus' coming.
Take comfort in his forgiveness.
Amen.






Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Advent 1B

Have you ever seen the comedy movie 
Chicken Little?

The sky is falling!

If you haven't seen the movie, what happens is that Chicken Little is sitting under a tree when a piece of sky falls and hits him on the head. 
He starts panicking.
He runs to the town bell tower and starts ringing the emergency bell.
And everyone else starts panicking.
Without knowing why.
So much so, people are running around, running into things, screaming and carrying on,
that the town water tower falls apart 
and the huge round part at the top, 
full of water,
falls down and rolls around town destroying things.
Chicken Little's panic does actually cause a real emergency.
All because he believes the sky is falling.

The sky is falling!

Jesus says it,
so it must be true.

Quite literally, Jesus says the stars are falling out of the sky.

Remember the three kinds of apocalypse?
The world ending because of natural disaster
the world ending because of human disaster
the revealing of truth
Well, this week's gospel passage is doubly apocalyptic.
Not only is the world coming to an end,
truth is being revealed as well.

On the ending of the world side of things,
What we heard was that the stars will be falling out of the sky.
However there's this grammar quirk about ancient Greek that allows both the future tense, will be, and the present tense, is
to be used at the same time.
So Jesus was both saying that the stars WILL BE falling out the sky
and
that the stars ARE falling out of the sky.

Kind of a scary prospect when you think about the fact that stars are giant balls of fiery gases which weigh over 2 octillion tons.
If the stars were literally falling out of the sky,
it would definitely be a natural disaster.

Why does that matter?
It matters because Jesus is very good at speaking in multiple ways at once,
both literally and figuratively.
This is part of the revealing of truth kind of apocalypse.
Its a metaphor... and is actually going to happen.
Also, because the author of the gospel of Mark,
let's call him Mark for good measure,
was very focused
on the urgency and immediacy and importance
of what was going on with Jesus' life
and what Jesus said.

Let's look deeper into this passage. 
Now to be fair, I will point out that this passage is
very very 
very very
deep.
We are only going to skim the surface of this passage. 
My friend Suse, a priest in Houston, wrote her entire PhD dissertation on this chapter of Mark.

Mark chapter 13 starts with Jesus coming out of the temple teaching his disciples about the temple being thrown down
and then quickly moves to Jesus sitting on the Mount of Olives with 
just Peter, James, John, and Andrew.
He tells them a bunch of things,
of which our gospel passage is at the end,
and finishes the chapter. 
Chapter 14, the next chapter,
is a long chapter which jumps forward
and takes the story all the way from preparations of the Passover
through the Last Supper and Jesus being arrested and Peter denying Jesus three times.
So Chapter 13 is Jesus' last ditch attempt to teach the disciples about what is going to happen.

Jesus tells his disciples watch out
because there are going to be false prophets
false Messiahs who come in his name
but are frauds.
Jesus tells his disciples not to be too concerned 
that they are going to suffer
and be beaten
and arrested
and that they are going to have to stand up for themselves in court.
Jesus tells his disciples that when the Emperor
sets up his statue in the temple in Jerusalem
they must abandon the temple.

So obviously, this is a lovely hill side chat between Jesus and his favored four.

Symbolically also
Jesus is telling his disciples about the end times
about the coming suffering and feeling of desolation
on the hill on which he is going to die. 

Its an intense conversation.

And then,
Jesus says, after all the suffering,
the world is going to appear to end,
and the Son of Man will arrive,
and gather up his people.
And he gives the disciples a few more signs of how they are going to know this is happening.

Unfortunately, the signs are not all that specific. 

Well, except the one. 
Jesus says that the generation he is talking to will not pass away before the end of the world happens. 
I think perhaps,
this passage is a great example of Jesus being human.
He got the timing wrong.
Or perhaps he has been very very late.
He said that the generation around him would not pass away before the end of time had come.
I think he got a little confused about God's time and its translation to linear human time.

But either way, he says over and over again
that no one,
no one,
except the Father, God in heaven,
knows when it will all go down.
So, Jesus says,
Keep Awake.
He says it not only to the disciples, but he also says it to everyone.
Keep Awake.
As the last thing Jesus teaches before the narrative of being arrested, charged, beaten, and killed, 
its very poignant.
Keep Awake.
Now, how does all of this relate to us?
How does all of this relate to Advent?

Well, we all certainly understand that feeling of
the sky is falling!
The sky is falling!

When our worlds are falling apart.
Bad grades, relationship break ups,
losing jobs, defaulting on loans,
divorces, illness, deaths.
There are plenty of big and little ways
the world falls apart each day.
The interesting thing is that no matter which kind of world falling apart you're talking about,
the pattern is always the same.
The world falls apart.
Everything seems like it is going to end.
There is great darkness,
in the world or in our hearts,
and then Jesus arrives.
The advice to "Keep Awake"
is true on both levels:
In looking forward to the coming of the end of time
or when your own world falls apart.
In either situation,
as soon as the sky is falling,
Jesus is coming.
Jesus is going to be present.

Many certainly have commented on the extremeness of the world situation at the moment in conjunction with the possibility of the coming of the end of times.
And in the darkness,
Jesus is present.
On the street, in this church,
sitting between you in the pew...
Keep awake.
You'll see him. 

Wakefulness 
is both contemplative as well as action filled.
Seeing Jesus is something which takes the ability to see
requiring watchfulness and mindfulness,
sitting quiet and allowing Jesus to make his presence known,
and also a committed, dogged, going out and looking for Jesus.

I don't know how many people I have met
who have been the midst of great darkness
and totally missed Jesus' arrival
in their lives.
Yet, that is 
always 
the time at which he shows up.


Its also interesting to hear that while Heaven and earth are going to pass away,
Jesus' words are not going to pass away.
We believe that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh,
certainly at this time of year, 
as we look forward to his birth in human form in the feast of the Nativity.
That's what this whole season of Advent is about,
getting ourselves prepared for Jesus' coming.

Which if we think about that pattern of when Jesus shows up,
means that Advent necessarily feels like a time of darkness.

But the eternal Word will not pass away.
No, it will stay with us.
The Word will exist and be with us forever
and ever 
and ever 
and ever 
and ever
in ways we cannot understand.

All in all, 
Keep Awake.
The sky might be falling.
But that means Jesus is coming!

Amen.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving

11/22/17

"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.

Amen!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Blessing Box

11/17/17

"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.
Yet,
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.

Amen.  

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
we
are
surprised
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
YES.
We can be free.
This story is just one example, from five thousand years ago.
YES
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.
Amen.