Getting Beyond Ourselves

“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
— Jesus the Christ, c 30 A.D.

I think I am an institutional person. By that I mean that I find a sense of place, of belonging, of stability and identity through being part of something larger, much larger, than myself. I am an introvert, but my way of being leads me to a life lived in institutions and not as a hermit. The bigger and the more connected, the better. I doubt I could be a congregationalist and I much prefer league bowling to bowling alone. Some now say they are spiritual, but not religious and so practice a kind of cafeteria-menu, individualist, ego-driven, something spiritual spirituality. Give me the ancient, institutional, and hierarchal church with such a cloud of witnesses and a communion of saints.

Paradoxically, it is by belonging that we do not get swallowed up and vanish into the whole but go beyond ourselves to become more than our individual selves. Membership, as they say, has its privileges and one is to belong and to grow. Jesus tells us that if we join ourselves with him, we will find life. If we choose to go beyond our individual, ego-driven, personal agendas and make his agenda our agenda, and to be part of the body of Christ, we will find greater life than we could ever otherwise know. The following story illustrates this principle of getting beyond ourselves to find greater life and invites us to think beyond our current thinking and to imagine a larger reality - to imagine how our fears and our experience of life’s bitterness, how our disagreements and our inability to practice reconciliation, how our lack of concern for and charity toward others, and so forth are all part of having too small a view of God’s purpose in our lives and too small a view of our place in God’s dream for God’s people.

An aging master grew tired of his apprentice complaining, and so, one morning, sent him for some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the unhappy young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it. “How does it taste?” the master asked.

“Bitter” spit the apprentice.

The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake, and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”

As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?” “Fresh,” remarked the apprentice. “Do you taste the salt?” asked the master. “No,” said the young man.

At this, the master sat beside this serious young man who so reminded him of himself and took his hands, offering, “The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things …. stop being a glass. Become a lake.”

Stay connected and go big. As Jesus promises “whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

Fr Bill+

The Nature of Things

Recently I read a book on conflict in the church. I would guess that conflict is not an attractive topic and with so much else to read, a book on conflict might be one that is easier than others to pass by. The author is someone I have met and who I feel has much wisdom to share. He sees things from unusual angles and offers fresh, if challenging, insights and conclusions. So, even though I am more attracted to books more overtly about the life of Jesus, I thought I might read this book to see what this bright author had to say. I admit that I also had something practical in mind. Look around. Is there any shortage of conflict? Are there many places where we do not find disagreements? I think it accurate to say that conflict abounds. We find it in our homes and our workplaces. We find it in the public square and we find it in our churches. Of conflict, we have a gracious plenty.

I suspect that for peace-loving folk and for others who have lived a lifetime of exposure to conflict, conflict is something to be avoided. It makes us uneasy. It upsets our harmony. If it were offered as a gift, we would say “no thanks.” If it enters into our place of sanctuary, we want it to be silenced. Make it go away and give us harmony.

But what if conflict is in the nature of God’s creation? What if conflict stems from the fact that people with differences are called into relationship with God and each other? What if conflict is something we are called to enter into like Jesus did? Conflict would likely remain hard and upsetting, but maybe we could learn more about how to address our differences and how to keep our fears from becoming aggression and exclusion toward others. Maybe we could become more Christ-like, entering into the conflict with the eyes and heart of God for those on opposing sides. Maybe we could become more like Christ who gathered around himself twelve different individuals and used those differences for the singular purpose of changing the future of the world.

In the final chapter, the author talks about an occasion where he had been asked to lead a conversation on a controversial topic at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. He admits his anxiety in that moment, knowing that partisans were gathering, and fearing that he would lose control of the conversation. So, he did something simple yet brilliant. He had them sit in a circle and share their stories. What brings you here? What do you fear? When did you first encounter the living Christ? People shared honestly and deeply, and those on opposing sides found they had much more in common than they may have supposed. They discovered humanity in each other. They were different, but no longer strangers. They could see each other with the eyes and heart of God.

This is what can happen when people in conflict take the time to share their stories. Take time to tell your story to another person and take time to listen to theirs. What are your hopes and fears? How has God touched your life? Difference is built into God’s creation and conflict arises out of difference, but it is possible to move forward in ways other than trying silence or drive out those with whom we disagree.

Grace and peace be yours,
Fr Bill+

Your Father Who Sees in Private

When I was a college professor one of my regular classes was research methods. In that course we spent considerable time on survey design and consideration of what methods worked best for highly sensitive topics. One might wonder what topics fall within the category of highly sensitive. If you guessed money, you guessed correctly. People would rather tell you about a host of personal beliefs and practices than disclose how much money they earn and how much they are worth. You have likely seen the outcome of this where surveyed income is reported in broad income categories. In another course on inequality we would consider the social conditions that led wealthy people to conspicuously consume their wealth and the non-wealthy to engage in practices where they tried to pass as a member of the leisure class. My students were going to have to swim in our collective cultural pool, but I wanted them to do so as somewhat informed participants. A few, perhaps, were able to find their way in life less stressed by norms of material accumulation.

You have likely heard many times that Jesus had much to say about money. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us to give alms, to pray, and to fast without making a show of it all. These three acts of piety - of ways of honoring God and coming closer to God - are of one body of a lived faith. Giving alms, for example, is a faithful response to prayer and prayers answered. Fasting supports alms giving by redirecting resources from personal use to the needs of others and prayer supports fasting. We should, of course, pray about our giving. Note that Jesus does not say, “if you decide to do these” but he assumes that all will and that there is a right and wrong way for doing so. In all three acts, we are to do so in private, and God will see because God knows all. Jesus understood that people used their wealth conspicuously to gain the admiration of others. He understood that money could take the heart captive and that it could come to be ones master. So he said this like, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” And, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. ... But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Christians, including church leaders, are probably not so different from others. They also do not like to talk about money, certainly not their own. I doubt many would volunteer to report their income to their church, though some do, and I doubt many would want their priest or pastor to look at the financials and see how much they give to the church. Be assured that that does not happen at Good Shepherd. Later this month you will receive your 2018 pledge card. What I ask is that all of us take Jesus at his word and pray about our giving. I ask that you consider where you might fast in order to increase your gift. What you decide to give to the church is what you and God have come to in prayer. That is a sacred vow that you will make with God in private, trusting that God will help you fulfill that vow.

Grace and peace be yours,

Fr Bill+

Trusting God with our Future

“The first and primary object of the work was, and still is, that God might be magnified”
— George Müller

I recently read a story about the conversion and baptism of the Gauls that speaks to the on-going challenge of living our faith. The Gauls were a fierce and warring people who once inhabited what is now France and Belgium. Before they were conquered by Rome and converted to Christianity, these ancient people spoke a Celtic language and followed a Druidic religion. Myth has it that when one of these warriors was baptized, he would extend and keep one arm up out of the water of baptism. Missionaries quickly learned the purpose of this odd act. It seems that not long after baptism, a warrior would hear of a skirmish, grab his sword or ax with his unbaptized arm and run off to smash his enemy in a most unchristian manner. The arm, they said, had not been baptized. Can you see how that may apply to our lives? Is there anything that we hold out on and not allow Jesus to be lord over? Maybe it is our work or our home lives? Maybe it is how we spend our time or how we use our talents? Maybe it is our plans and our future? Or perhaps it is that thing Jesus and the Bible talk about so much that remains not fully baptized - our treasure? In all of those we might discern areas of our lives that we suppose and act as if they are unbaptized and so left to our own direction and use.

Many will recall the story of Jesus and the rich ruler (Matthew 18, Mark 10, Luke 13). This man told Jesus that he had kept all the commandments since his youth. That is commendable and better than I could say, but there was something the young man was still holding out of the water. Jesus told him to sell all he had and give to the poor, then come and follow. This is not to say that all must do exactly the same, but it is to say that even our treasure is meant to be baptized and under Jesus’ lordship. That young man went away sad because he had many possessions. He could not let go even though Jesus had told him he would gain the treasures of heaven. Letting go of what appears to be the sure thing and trusting God with our future can be hard. Trusting that God will provide when we follow in faith can be hard for people who have been convinced that it is by our own doing that we sink or swim.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the gathered, to not worry about things that are needed such as food and clothing. We might add education, health care, retirement, leisure and other things we experience as needs. Jesus says that worry is what unbelievers do, but believers are to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. Then all things needed will be given. Is it not a great faith challenge to trust the word of God that in seeking the Kingdom, and the way of the Kingdom, God will be faithful in providing what we need? It is a matter of trusting God with all we have been given. All our time, all our talent, all our treasure. All our hopes and all our dreams and our very future.

One of the most inspiring stories of trust I know is that of George Müller. George was a German evangelist who built a five house orphanage in Bristol, England. During the 19th Century, his orphanage cared for over 10,000 children and eventually 17,000 by the time it was sold to the city in 1958. The amazing thing is that he never made an appeal for money. Instead, he prayed and he did Kingdom work, and over £86,000,000 ($112,000,000) was given to this Kingdom work. Müller dared to believe that God still heard our prayers and that God was active in the world working with those who sought the way of the Kingdom. So he prayed, and he worked, and gave the rest over to God, trusting that God would provide the necessary money. Here is George in his own words, “This, then, was the primary reason for establishing the orphan house. I certainly did from my heart desire to be used by God to benefit the bodies of poor children, bereaved of both parents, and seek in other respects, with the help of God, to do them good for this life. I also particularly longed to be used by God in getting the dear orphans trained up in the fear of God; but still, the first and primary object of the work was, and still is, that God might be magnified by the fact that the orphans under my care are provided with all they need, only by prayer and faith, without any one being asked by me or my fellow-laborers, whereby it may be seen that God is faithful still, and hears prayer still.”

Like George Müller, I also believe that God is active in the world, listening to our prayers, seeking co-workers for building the Kingdom, and is calling us to a greater trust. Trust was not easy in Jesus’ day nor was it in Müller’s. It is not now but it seems clear that we must try. I invite you to join me in a season of prayer where I will be praying that we would all become more faithful in seeking God’s Kingdom, discerning what God is asking of us in mission and ministry, living according to God’s righteousness, and become trusting that if we would submit more of all we have been given to the lordship of Jesus, he will provide the treasures of heaven we need to accomplish the work he has called us to do.

Grace and peace and trust be yours, now and always,

Fr. Bill+

Independence Day

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and  or us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
— Lesser Feasts and Fasts, p. 285

From its earliest days, the church has celebrated special days in the life of God’s people along with the remembrance and celebration of the lives of the saints and martyrs. The Episcopal Church has its own calendar of these major and lesser feast and fast days. Among these, one finds the obvious major feast days such as Christmas and Easter, and some others that may come to mind in a moment’s thought such as the Feast of the Epiphany, the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, the Ascension of our Lord, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday. Further thought, and some good guessing, may identify so-called “lesser” feast days such as those of each Gospel evangelist, feast days of the disciples, and feast days of important early church leaders.

Over the years, the calendar has grown to include a diversity of people in whom we recognize a special incarnation of God’s grace and through whom the Kingdom of God has been furthered. This reflects the ongoing and lived experience of people who continue to journey with a living God. It reflects God’s people proclaiming that God is still active in the world and claiming new stakes for God’s Kingdom. So, along with the Christmas and Easter events, along with the lives Saints Peter and Paul, those of Saints Augustine and Aquinas and the remainder of the “so great a cloud of witnesses,” we also find Independence Day. It may seem odd that a secular, political holiday would be found among other holy days. As Saint Tertullian (b. 155AD) questioned, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” What does philosophy have to do with the church, the political with the religious, a state holiday with a calendar of church holy days? The answer comes from our lived experience, our claiming, and our proclaiming. As Saint Paul claimed and proclaimed in Athens that the altar to an unknown god belonged to the one true God (Acts 17:16-34), and as Saint Patrick and the Celtic monks, while affirming the Irish search for God, claimed and proclaimed that the high stones, sacred groves, wells, and fairy pools of the Irish belonged to the one true God, the church throughout history has baptized and assimilated the world to itself. Likewise, the Episcopal church has claimed Independence Day as a day belonging to the one true God.

Like the altar in Athens and the land of the Celts, we baptize our world and the events that transpire within it, claiming those for God and proclaiming through them our lived experience of the living God. For Episcopalians, Independence Day is a holy day where we proclaim the presence of God’s grace in history and we remember the call to God’s people to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God that all people may live in righteousness and peace. Happy Independence Day, Fr. Bill

Country Fare takes a Sabbath

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.
— Ecclesiastes 3:1

Twenty five years is a long time. Twenty five years ago I was a graduate student in Tallahassee working on finishing a dissertation and looking forward to spending the next year as a visiting faculty member at East Tennessee State University. Twenty five years ago, Susan I were “just” dating and having lots of fun. Graduation, marriage, and children were not even on the radar. Twenty five years ago, Bill Clinton was elected president, Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi were Wimbledon champions, AOL (American Online) was just one year old and Yahoo would not appear for another two years. Twenty five years later, I am a priest in the Episcopal Church with two grown children, one of whom is graduating from college. Good thing I am just as tall and slim as twenty five years ago. You know that I am kidding. Twenty five years, good years for the most part, is a long time. During that time I had a season for being a professor of sociology, for starting and raising a family, a season of living is several places in the South and the Midwest, a season for sharing time with inlaws and for seeing them die too young. I am sure that your experience over twenty five years is also one of seasons and change. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.

About twenty five years ago a bunch of servants of God started Country Fare, that wonderful gathering of this faith community in an effort to provide quality discount goods and raise funds to help the needy. Over the years that event has changed and has seen changes in leadership, and this community has changed along with it. There were years when for practical or other reasons Country Fare was not held, but mostly for the past twenty five years this church has gathered and pulled it off one more time. It has been a huge effort with untold blessings for those who have participated as workers and guests. I do not think anyone doubts that Country Fare has been a good thing for this church and our community. But we also recognize that our community has changed. When Country Fare started, there were not the number of thrift stores we now have. Country Fare provided at its start something not readily available to the local population. These stores provide both a place for us to donate our gently used items and the low cost goods that benefit so many in our community. We should also recognize that we have changed. Hauling furniture and long hours moving, sorting, organizing and preparing items for sale takes a physical toll. Country Fare is a tall order for a parish with an average age of about 70. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. Country Fare has had its season and will be on Sabbath for at least this year.

In this season where we now find ourselves, we have several on-going and newer ministry activities into which I invite your participation. Upcoming is the annual Parade of Tables. With that on-going, I ask that you make that an event where you invest your time, talent, and treasure. Be generous in your donation of an auction item. Attend and be generous in your bidding. All funds raised will be carefully used to further the mission of God in the world. I also ask, if you are not already doing so, that you participate in our Ingles Gift Card program. Ingles cards can be used for all your grocery, prescription, and gas purchases. The church receives $5 for outreach for every $100 of gift cards sold. We have only 20-25 families of our approximately 190 who regularly purchase Ingles Gift Cards and that could be greatly increased. Doubling that number would generate about $9000 annually for our outreach fund. For your convenience and so that you may earn your card program bonus points, credit cards will now be accepted for Ingles Gift Card purchases. We are asking that you pay the 3% credit card fee or an extra $3 on each $100 in cards that you purchase. Lastly, take note that our church now has a ministry team called the Holy Smokers. The Holy Smokers prepare and sell smoked meats and sides to raise funds for the church and its mission. You will find them holding events at church and throughout our community. Those looking for fun and fellowship out in the community along with your service might consider becoming part of the Holy Smokers team. Please feel welcome to ask me about any of these ministries and how to get involved.

Grace and peace,

Fr Bill+


Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus and save your people. Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.

One of the few Aramaic words in the New Testament, maranatha means both “Our Lord, has come” and “Come, Lord.” We say maranatha to proclaim that God has come to earth. We say maranatha to affirm our belief in the incarnation. We say maranatha in witness to the on-going ministry of Christ in the world through the church. It is a word befitting a church that has seen Christ and still sees Christ incarnating the world through the church in places where disease and darkness remain. Into our present darkness, against our present darkness, we cry “maranatha.” It is our proclamation of hope. It is our one word gospel in a nutshell. In the Easter season, our Epistle lessons come from the Book of Acts. Reading Acts, one sees that much of the preaching of the very early church focused on maranatha. See, for example, the preaching and ministry of Peter (1:22-35; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 10:34-43), Stephen (7:2-53), Philip (8:29-35), and Paul (13:16-41; 17:2-3; 17:22-31; 22:3-16). The proclamation of the early church was that the man Jesus, who was killed in Jerusalem, was the messiah, but that after three days, he rose from the dead and by his life and death made atonement for all who would believe. Maranatha!

It is also a word befitting a church in waiting, a church that has seen our Lord come, who knows something of the power of his love, and looks forward to that time when Christ will come again - a time when God will create a new heaven and earth, when wars will cease, when there will be no more crying, and when death will be no more. “Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus and save your people. Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.” This maranatha is a cry, a petition, and a pleading that our Lord return quickly. It is a maranatha that points toward the end of our liturgical year and the Feast of Christ the King. This year, we will hear from the gospel of Matthew. The Lord has returned with his holy angels and sits in judgement of the world, separating the sheep and the goats. How we live as the church in waiting does matter. It has never been the case that all that is required is belief. As James (2:17) writes, “... faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Charitable acts, works of mercy, doing good for another and praying for the well-being of others are all indications of a living faith. The ancient Christian theologian Tertullian (b.160 AD) quoted this pagan view of the early church, "Look," they say, "how they love one another and how they are ready to die for each other." Can you imagine nonbelievers saying the same of the church today? Perhaps? We might pause before we next cry “maranatha” and ask ourselves how we are doing.

Maranatha, come Lord Jesus,

Fr. Bill+

Remembering Anamnesis

“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this for the anamnesis of me.’” Luke 19:22

“In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, for the anamnesis of me.’” 1 Corinthians 11:25

Anamnesis is a Greek word with the seemingly simple meaning of remembering. To do anamnesis is to remember, to recollect. Many are most likely familiar with anamnesis as it appears in our Eucharistic prayers: “On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.’” 

That likely sounds familiar and sensible in its plain meaning. “Do this as a memorial, as a refreshing of your memory, of me.” Perhaps there is some reminiscing with an emotional response like “Yeah, I remember Jesus’ love for his disciples. That must have been a memorable evening. It is worth remembering.” While there is value in this, the truth is that there is much more to anamnesis that simply this. Remembering anamnesis and the Jewish context of Jesus’ ministry can lead us to a more meaningful and helpful understanding. 

In Genesis 9, after the flood, God establishes a covenant with Noah, all living things, and future generations. God says that the rainbow will serve as a reminder to himself of his covenant that he has made with all living creatures. Remembrance is about calling into the present the covenant once established. It is a reaffirmation of that covenant and a reassurance that the covenant still holds in the present. It is a making present what was in the past and unites history, the past with the present. Likewise, the Jewish celebration of the Passover described in Deuteronomy is a remembrance of the events of Exodus 12. In the rabbinic teaching on the Passover feast we read “In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he himself came out of Egypt; as it is written: ‘This is done because of that which God did to me when I came out of Egypt’” (Talmud, Pesachim 116b). This is no mere bringing to mind, but again is making present what was past and uniting the Jews of the Exodus with all Jews of all times in the blessings and salvation of God. This is the sort of anamnesis that Jesus would have had in mind for his followers. We take and eat the bread and drink the wine to make the moment of the Last Supper present in all its significance and all its saving grace. When we gather and do anamnesis, it is not a merely a refreshing of memory or a reminder to be thankful, through those might be included, but we make Christ present in the same way that the rainbow brings the fullness of covenant into the present moment and the Passover feast brings the fullness of God’s exodus salvation. This is a powerful remembering and our hopes and expectations for Eucharistic anamnesis should be equally powerful. I bid you to come to the table with all your hopes and dreams, because it is Christ who truly invites you to come.
Fr Bill+

Union in the Body

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
— G.K. Chesterton

It is not easy for any group of people to be the church. The fact that we have over thirty-five thousand Christian denominations worldwide is evidence of how hard it is for the people of God to be the united body of Christ. I find much in Saint Paul’s letters that tell me he was often working just as hard or even harder to hold the church together as he was working to build the church. At his first church plant at Corinth there were status differences and indifference dividing the community, and there were factions following Apollos versus those claimed allegiance to Paul. There were troublemakers at Thessalonica, idle folk who were gossips without enough holy work to do. At Philippi, there was quarreling between leading members of the church with supporters lining up behind each side. Judgment and condemnation passed between factions in the body of Christ at Rome. Imagine the passive-aggressive behavior. Again and again, Paul preached to the church about the need for unity, the desirability of putting on the mind of Christ and practicing humble service, of seeing each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, of overcoming the world and the ways of the world. These internal challenges were likely influenced and compounded by the challenges coming from the outside. Saint James also knew about the struggle and especially took note of how what we say can be so damaging. He called the tongue a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.” I believe these divisions and our current divisions in the body grieve the Holy Spirit. I believe they also diminish our clam to be followers of Christ, our baptismal vows, and our witness to the world. 

Jesus says “love your neighbor as yourself.” And he famously added, “love your enemy.” As Saint James notes, with the same tongue that we bless God, we curse others. This must not be by the words of our mouths, by the pen, or the keyboard. As followers of Christ, our nly option is to love even those with whom we strongly disagree. This is not about your feelings, not a command to hold particular warm and fuzzy emotions, but is about how you treat others. No one is authorized to judge or condemn another. No one is authorized to speak harshly to another, to call someone a fool or stupid. No one who claims to be a Christian is allowed to gossip, lie or spread lies, engage in hateful speech or spread that speech. Union in the body requires this and our witness to the world requires this. This is not to say that we must agree on everything. Unity is not the same as conformity of thought. Of all denominations, it is us non-doctrinal Episcopalians who should appreciate that the most. We are a conciliar and a “big tent” people. We gather and we talk and we listen, and we seek common ground. There is no allowance for an attitude of “my way or I take my ball and go home.” We make room for varying opinions and, if no where else, we find our communion in our confession that we have again grieved the Holy Spirit and in our healing by Christ at the altar rail. 

In our current political climate, it is especially important that we are mindful of our baptismal covenant. We promise before God that we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, no exception both within the church and as well as outside the church. So, when we degrade another, we degrade Christ. When we serve another, we serve Christ. We promise to strive for both justice and peace among all people. We cannot seek one without the other nor can we seek one at the expense of the other. We are not likely to be all of one mind on how to best accomplish these ends, but as we promise to respect the dignity of every human being let us be ever mindful of practicing that respect for individual dignity within the church as well as outside the church.

A friend often reminds me of my own words, “it is not easy being church.” It never has, but maybe some mindfulness of the times and how they affect us, some willingness to put on once again the mind of Christ and to love and serve others in humility, and some individual and corporate repentance (Greek metanoia - to think again and to have a change of mind) would serve this faith community well. Saint Paul thought so.

Grace and peace,
Fr Bill+

Connecting with the Spirit of God

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
— Matthew 4:16
That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.
— Aldous Huxley

History does in some general way repeat itself. The players and the places change, but one can see the broad patterns. In part, that is how we are able to make connections with others though our common experiences where history has unfolded in some similar way across our individual lives. Common experiences, and that the experience of life is not complete randomness and chaos are to be expected for those who believe in the Christian God. We trust that God tamed and organized the chaos into a home for us. God gave that creation patterns of day and night, and set the sun and stars and planets in their places. God separated the dry land from the sea and the air and put each animal is its proper place. There is regularity, there is pattern, and there is renewal as things die and things are born.

Isaiah was a prophet in the royal court in the latter part of the 8th century BC. At that time, the Neo-assyrian Empire had conquered Syria and Israel (i.e., the northern kingdom of the divided monarchy). That Empire was now threatening the southern kingdom of Judah. Part of the captured northern lands were the tribal lands of two of the sons of the patriarch Jacob - namely, Zebulun and Naphtali.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
— Isaiah 9:2

The promise in Isaiah is that to those people walking in darkness and to those now being threatened by darkness, a new hope from God has dawned. Centuries later, history is repeated. Details change, but the pattern is there. The ancient tribal lands are now the “Galilee of the Gentiles” and the oppressor of God’s people are now the Romans. The smell and the shadow of death are ever present, but again God brings hope. Can we learn the lesson of history: that darkness comes in a variety of ways, but God is faithful in bringing new hope? And, can we learn to search for the meaning of our lives and hope for our lives in the story of the Bible? Certainly, Matthew points back to Isaiah in order to bring hope to a new day. 

My German heritage includes something like an exodus story. A group of German settlers journey to a land where things for them are better. They work hard and become numerous and wealthy. Their religion, culture, and language become the common currency. Then there is war, retribution, and darkness and death. The light of God came in the form of the American Red Cross. Survivors made their exodus to a new home, not welcomed back home as “real” Germans, and scattered to many places across the sea. In our history, we are like the children of Jacob in our journey, like the Samaritans in our reception by others of our motherland tribe, and like all, we are children of God for whom a new light dawned. This is part of my story and how I connect with the story of God. I want to know your story and I want to know how your story connects with my story. 

Will you tell your story too?
Fr Bill+