Thursday, April 26, 2018

Hope

a mass entangled
skin on skin, flesh on flesh
way power and will power
uniting as one
one goal, one direction
towards the higher good
light dancing with darkness
pulling the world apart
putting it back together
with all subsequent parts
both broken and whole

5/19/17

Evangelism


Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 816)

Simply the word Evangelism usually leaves a dry feeling in the mouth of Episcopalians. "Go tell someone about Jesus? Isn't that for the Baptists or the Evangelicals?" Yes, it is for them to do, but it is also for us to do. Part of fulfilling our call as Christians is by sharing our stories of relationship with Jesus with other people. Jesus specifically tells his disciples to go out into the world and share, to tell other people and to have them tell other people. Jesus created not a religious institution, but a movement.

Evangelism isn't about gathering more people into our church or converting people into Episcopalians, however much we might think that. Evangelism is about celebrating Jesus in the lives of our neighbors and community. Here at St. John's and Grace, we are putting together an Evangelism Team to start looking at how we are sharing the Jesus story with those outside our community and how we can go about better telling and celebrating the stories of God working among us. I hope you will join us in this effort!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Good Shepherd Sunday - The Big Bad Wolf


Good Shepherd Sunday
 
I'd like to reintroduce you
to someone you already know.
He has a reputation
for being lean, mean, and hairy,
he likes to huff and puff,
he likes to trick small girls,
and he likes to eat.
Have you guessed it yet?
The Big Bad Wolf.
 
(okay, this one isn't so big... or bad looking...)
 
Starring in many Disney shorts,
a musical, and some ancient fables,
The Big Bad Wolf
has been scaring and subverting good children
for centuries.
Today, we see the replay of his debut in the scriptures,
in the parable of the Good Shepherd,
well-beloved by many
as one of the most comforting parables of all time.
 
In the parable, the Big Bad Wolf
disrupts the quiet pastoral scene we are given
of the sheep and the hired hands
grazing in the fields.
The Big Bad Wolf comes running in,
frightening the hired hand into running away,
scattering the sheep,
and snatching one for his supper.
It is devastation and survival,
in its most raw form.
 
Metaphorically, the Big Bad Wolf
is used as a stand in for evil.
In the British television show, Doctor Who,
one season is particularly plagued with the recurring fear and confusion
which comes from seeing the words BAD WOLF pop up over and over again.
The watchers of the television show know immediately
that whatever BAD WOLF signifies,
it is not going to be good.

Despite the necessary nature of wolves to some ecosystems,
human beings see wolves as creatures to be feared,
since in our history wolves were seen as predators,
and still occasionally, we hear horror stories of wolves attacking hikers in the woods.
 
So when Jesus starts telling a parable about
a big bad wolf destroying a flock of sheep,
the people can easily understand the metaphor
about evil coming in and destroying the community,
and the lack of protection from those we perceive in authority.

Unfortunately, the parable rings true for us today.
When evil comes into our communities,
many of the people we look up to to take care of us
have a tendency to run and hide. 

We have all been disappointed in our lives,
felt the sting of betrayal
when something bad starts to happen to us
and the person or people we thought would take care of us
or would protect us 
or make whatever bad thing go away
fail to protect or care for us.
The sting of betrayal hurts a lot
and sadly not all of us recover from that betrayal.

As human beings, even in great communities like this one,
we are not always the most reliable or perfect.
Whether we are the scattering sheep or the frightened hired hand,
We fail to live up to expectations, like the hired hand running away from wolves,
we don't live up to our boss's expectations or our families' expectations,
or even our own expectations.

Thankfully, Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
Jesus comes into the parable
and changes it all around.

I am always interested by what parables don't say.
I bring this up because we as human beings are so good at filling in holes.
We walk through our days filling in missing information with assumptions
and ideas which come from our own history and understanding.
Not all our assumptions are true.
We sometimes lack information and fill it with assumptions
only to find out later that the reality was very different than we thought.

The parables of Jesus are very well-known stories
with very well-known interpretations.
Every year, we expect to hear the same stories and listen to the same lessons
about what it means to live a Christian life
and who Christ is.
Good Shepherd Sunday is one of those weeks in the church.
We come to church expecting to hear read the 23rd Psalm,
to hear about Jesus being the Good Shepherd
and to leave with a deep seated feeling of comfort
in having a Lord and Savior who loves us and cares for us
that he will lay down his life for us.
Jesus will protect us
even though we "walk through the valley of the shadow of death,"
We don't have to fear evil.
We don't have to live in fear of the coming of the Big Bad Wolf.
Jesus will be with us.

All of which is true.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd.
Jesus will be with us,
even though we "walk through the valley of the shadow of death,"
we DON'T have to fear evil.
Jesus will be with us.

However, what the parable doesn't say,
is that Jesus the Good Shepherd
killed the wolf.
That instead of running away from the coming of the Big Bad Wolf,
Jesus went out with his lightsaber,
his sword, his God-endued powers
and destroyed the wolf,
the evil which comes to destroy the pastoral scene of community among the sheep.
It doesn't say that Jesus hated the wolf.
I've heard people say things like this.
An assumption that Jesus would obviously take care of the Big Bad Wolf when he showed up
because he protects his sheep.

Yet, after all, that really isn't Jesus' style.
We are talking about the man who looked into the face of institutional injustice and evil,
the Roman Empire working through the Roman soldiers
who nailed him to a cross to crucify him,
and he forgave them.

Jesus didn't destroy death by continuing to work violence in the world.
Jesus destroyed death and made all creation new
by forgiving
by loving
and by giving himself up through that forgiveness and love.

So if the parable doesn't say that Jesus took care of the Big Bad Wolf forever,
what does the parable say?
What the parable does say is that Jesus' sheep
know his voice.
So that when the Big Bad Wolf does come
Jesus' sheep know his voice and can follow him.
They look to Jesus the Good Shepherd
for guidance and comfort.
They don't scatter out of fear
they don't hate the wolf.
No,
They follow the voice that they know.
They follow the call that they know.
They follow Jesus.

Too often in our country,
I hear people, Christians,
who have understandably been hurt by others
through betrayal, through abuse, through injustice
seeking to destroy evil with violence.
However, violence only begets more violence.
The call of Jesus,
the voice of Jesus
is a voice crying out for peace,
for justice,
for love.
He serves as the Good Shepherd faithfully
by laying down his life for us,
not by charging out against evil with a sword,
but by loving and forgiving.

I imagine that the Good Shepherd
would even find a place in his heart
to love
to show compassion to
to forgive 
the Big Bad Wolf.

Amen. 



Thursday, April 19, 2018

Revolution


movement in circles
you've got your hands full
movement in circles
empty hands waiting for food

movement in circles
leaving me wanting you
movement in circles
leaving you wanting me

movement in circles
the political left
movement in circles
becomes the political right

movement in circles
go fully around to find the beginning
movement in circles
go fully around to find the end

5/7/17

Social Media and the Church



Almost every conceivable opinion has been voiced on the internet. The internet has become like many other things in our lives, useful for both positive and negative uses, a tool in abuse and a tool in great educational and emotional triumph. Some churches have found themselves pushing back against the idea of using social media to share the Gospel proclamation. Other churches embrace social media as a medium through which new people can be reached. After all, there aren't that many people left without some kind of social media account. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Skype, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Tumblr...  there is a social media site for everyone.

Some people aren't against using social media for church business, but are definitely against using social media in church! How can the community worship while people are distracted with their phones? However, we can argue, no matter what, people are going to get distracted during church. The floor isn't clean, the kids in the back are making too much noise, what color is that dress over there? Is so and so asleep during the sermon again? Did I remember to turn the dishwasher on? Not everyone is going to agree with me, but I do think there is a place for using social media in church. We are called to share our stories, to share the Gospel story with other people. Today, one of the ways we can share the story, let other people know about Christ is through sharing our faith life online. Through check-ins, through sharing quotes or prayers that touch us, through sharing the faith of the community online, we let other people know how important worship is to us and how it has made a difference in our lives. Give it a whirl: post a picture, a song, a quote, share something from our Sunday morning worship with your community online. Let them know how important Jesus is to you.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Rise


Rise my little sparrow
Rise from the ashes of the grave
Remember acceptance and approval
Are very different beasts
Rise the rain lies fallow
And the ducks are splashing yet
The women in their vestments
Have not made us sinners
Rise the constitution is waiting
Rise parliament is powdered
Waiting for the light
Rise the giving birth is painful
But the labors are not in vain
Rise my little sparrow
And fly in splendid glory


(5/5/17)

Looking Towards the Future

"“The listening sessions were enlightening and challenging,” Bishop Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania said of the gatherings held between January 31 and March 20. “There is a great deal of enthusiasm for a partnership between our two dioceses, but also some skepticism about why we should change the way we’re doing things now."" ("What's Next" from Rust Belt Episcopal)

Last month, on Monday March 19th, St. John's was host to one of the Listening Sessions for the proposed partnership between the Diocese of Western New York and the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. All told there were eight listening sessions throughout both dioceses in the last couple of months. This week, on the Rust Belt Episcopal website, an article was published about what is coming next in the process. As it stands now, the next step is for each of the Standing Committees of both dioceses to meet separately and vote on whether the process will move forward. Both votes will happen in May, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Western New York voting on whether to nominate Bishop Sean as their provisional Bishop and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania voting on whether to give permission for Bishop Sean to stand for election in the Diocese of Western New York. More information can be found in the article on the website linked above.

I was very grateful for the number of St. John's members who turned up at the listening session here. We know better than most the benefits and difficulties of working together in community with other Christians. Through fellowship and worship with Grace Lutheran Church, working with other community churches for Shepherd's Green Community Food Pantry, and other Franklin Ministerium events, collaboration offers gifts of diversity, perspective, and strength which might not otherwise be possible. While the proposed partnership between the Dioceses is still in discernment, take the time to talk to one of the Standing Committee members about your thoughts about the proposed partnership.

Standing Committee of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania
The Rev. Mary Norton, Kaycee Reib, The Rev. Stacey Fussell, Anne Bardol, The Very Rev. Dr. John Downey, Donna Billioni, The Rev. Jason Shank, Jack Malovich 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Resurrection

Resurrection
(4/16/17 Easter Sunday)

deep inside
newness
deeply right
familiar sense
the truth all along
snake skin shed
for want of rarity
what is living
fully bodied
is eternity's reality

Easter Week


4/6/18
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Easter is a joyful season of resurrection and new life. However, many find new life kind of disconcerting at first. The transition into something new is not always very easy. Easter is a time of celebration, yet sometimes celebration requires being gentle and compassionate with yourself and those around you. Welcoming the happy new morning each day in the spirit of Easter does take practice... and luckily, we have a whole fifty day season of Easter to work on celebrating this Good News! Not one chance, not two chances, but fifty chances. Living into new life does not happen over night, every morning we have a new chance to celebrate the new life begun in us through Jesus Christ.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Go and Tell - Easter Sunday


Easter Sunday

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

The end is just the beginning.

The gospel passage we hear this morning is the end of the oldest version of the gospel of Mark. 
If you happened to pull out a Bible right now,
you'd probably find two other endings,
passages which try to give the gospel of Mark a conclusion
and add on additional stories,
those two other endings have been added on through the years
because people felt that this ending was somehow unsatisfactory
or unfinished.

It is unfinished.
The end of Mark is deliberately open-ended.
Obviously, the women did eventually tell their story 
or else it would have never been written down.
But the hearers of this story are supposed to finish the story themselves. 

The end of this story,
the women finding an angel in the tomb
instead of Jesus
is really just the beginning of a long amazing story
which shares what happens after Jesus' death
and what his followers do with the news of his resurrection. 

And well, we all know,
Thousands of years of Christians giving witness in the world
wouldn't fit into a single book.

Lets go back to the story, 
this ending of Mark's.
Very early on the first day of the week,
three women, 
who had been followers of Jesus
and fairly close to Jesus,
put their love for him into action,
they go to do what needs to be done.
Jesus' body needed to be wrapped and finished 
in order to give him a proper burial.

They go to the tomb where Jesus had been laid,
quite dead.
They expect to find Jesus still there when they arrive that morning.
However, what they find is surprising and terrifying.
They find a young man, dressed in a white robe.
Cue the trumpets...
this must be an angel. 
He was dressed in white.
He had a message for the women. 
His first statement was "Do not be alarmed."
What do angels always say first?
"Do not be afraid."

Everyone always refers to this story 
as the women finding the empty tomb.
However, the women didn't find an empty tomb.
They found a tomb with an angel in it.
Which might have been even scarier than finding an empty tomb.
An empty tomb would have left them confused and lost.
The angel probably did leave them confused,
but he was very specific about what had happened
and what they were to do.

The angel tells the women,
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome,
that Jesus had been raised,
and that Jesus would meet them in Galilee.
The angel then gives the women two jobs: 
to go and 
to tell. 

It sounds like the women do the first job quite well,
they fled!
Out of terror and amazement,
they flee the scene. 

However, The ending of Mark doesn't share 
that they ever told Peter about Jesus.
It doesn't say that they shared their story at all.
We do know that they shared though. 
The story is well known and written down,
and that only would have happened if they had shared their story.

Interestingly, there are three women who are sent out to share the story,
to be witnesses to what has happened.  
I say that because in ancient times, given the status of women,
a single woman by herself could not testify before a judge and count as a witness. Multiple women were needed to count as equal to a testimony given by a man. Three women, in fact, were needed to make a witness statement 
which could count in a court. 
So these three women, sharing the story together, 
would have been a valid witness.

Now witnessing is actually about two verbs.
Being a witness requires two events.
Seeing and sharing.

The women had definitely seen something.
They saw an angel.
And they saw the absence of Jesus' body.
More than that, these three women,
who had been followers of Jesus,
had witnessed to his ministry,
the miracles, the teachings, the healings,
the crowds of people who followed him around,
the way the Pharisees and High Priests were against him,
and the crucifixion, 
all before they saw
the angel in the otherwise surprisingly empty tomb that morning.
At this point, they were saturated with what they had seen.

Any witness who has seen,
but hasn't shared,
hasn't finished their job as a witness.
The end of seeing means the beginning of sharing.

Yet, how could they share this story?
At first they are too scared to share it.
They are afraid.
With good reason.
Nothing like this had ever happened before. 
Nothing like this has ever happened since.

However, they were charged with sharing the story 
and share they story they do.
They tell Peter, they tell the other disciples.
They all go to Galilee
where they see the resurrected Jesus.
And, of course,
when they go to Galilee and see the resurrected Jesus
he gives his disciples the same charge as the angel gave the women,
to go and tell. 

Being here this morning,
means we have all seen something
and we have all been called to go and tell.
Like the women, like the disciples,
we are called to go and tell,
to share our stories about Jesus,
to share what we have heard and seen concerning this whole surprising episode.

Now you may not think you have much to share.
Some of you here probably don't have much experience with Jesus
or the story of the resurrection,
maybe some leftover memories from Sunday School or Vacation Bible School as a little child. 
Perhaps you don't feel like God is really at work in your life 
or that anyone would listen to your version of the story.

I can tell you, the world is hungry for this story.
Forgiveness, love, death, and new life
the world cries out for what Jesus gives us.

If you've ever been forgiven or given a second chance,
if you ever seen new life come out of a bad past,
if you have ever been surprised by mercy or grace
you have a story worth sharing.
You have a story of Jesus.

If you have ever had an experience of community,
or connection with people around you,
if you've ever been loved despite something you've done or forgotten,
if you've ever run away scared,
you have a story worth sharing,
you have a story of Jesus.

Don't worry about making a fool of yourself sharing your story,
The resurrection makes fools of us all.

The end of the story of Jesus' death and resurrection 
is, in fact, the beginning of our story in the Christian life and faith.
Where does the story go from here?
Only God knows
and only you can find out.
Go and tell!
Go and tell!
Go and tell!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!