The Rector’s Diary
Rector’s Report to the Annual Meeting
This morning, I want to lay out the priorities which I think are essential for this coming year for the life of our Parish Family.
Over the last several years, one priority that has constantly been brought up by members of our parish is the need to bring in new members. I can honestly say that, in the past few years we have indeed been bringing new people into our parish family. A few Sundays ago, when the weather was, well, typical for this time of year (cold and snowy) I looked around and at the congregation, as small as it was that day, and realized that over 3/4 of those there that day were new members since I came to Holy Cross five years ago.
Growing a small parish in a small town that is not it self growing is a tough enterprise. Indeed growing any church in any town is tough. The first thing we need to remember is that it’s not us who make the parish grow, but God.
Now, I please don’t think I’m throwing all the responsibility of growing our parish on God. Actually, I am, but we need to be mindful of the things that God is calling on us to do to work with him. That’s what the whole Christian life is about: God doing what he does, and us responding in the way which God wants us to respond in order to be the hands and feet of God here on earth. That’s what you and I are called to be – the body of Christ, carrying on his mission in the world, by his grace. My sermon this morning was about Christ leading the Charge from death to life, and the mission of the Church, and therefore the mission of this parish as the Church in Warrensburg, is to carry out that work which God has called us to do. Indeed we end our Mass each week asking God to help us “do all such Good works which though has prepared for us do to.”
In order to be a place where people want to come. In order to be a family that people want to be a part of, we need to have our business in order. And to have that business in order, we need to be constantly asking ourselves, “Is this what God want us to do?” More than any priority which you may think our parish family may have, that must be priority number one. Are we doing what God wants us to do.
And I want to invite you today, to join with me in adding to your prayers “O Lord, what would you have us do?” That was the prayer which Paul offered up when he was confronted with the vision of Christ on the Road to Damascus. “Lord, what shall I do?”
I’ve been asking that very question myself over the last several months. What would God have us do as we move toward the future. I want to share with you a few thoughts which I have discerned.
One area which we need to pray about is how can we do more to reach out to our community. I’ve struggled myself with this very question. There are a lot of wonderful ministries which God has called other churches to in our town. North Country Ministry, the Gathering Place, the Food Pantries. What can we do?
Within our own parish, too, each of us needs to consider how we can offer service. There wonderful people in our parish who bear a lot of the work. We need volunteers to help out with things like serving on the Altar as Acolytes and Chalice bearers and members of the Altar Guild.
But we also need more people to step up and help out with those special events, like dinners, and monthly breakfasts, with those special events like the quiche luncheon and the annual Christmas Bazaar. The more people who are willing to help the better.
One of the first items the vestry will be discussing next month at our first meeting of the year will be bringing back a few committees comprised of both members of the vestry and parishioners in general. Please be willing to volunteer or serve when asked.
In the area of our worship, the vestry has discussed trying to have a contemporary service in addition to our traditional worship services. Personally, I think that there is value in having a broad range of worship offerings, but I am hesitant at the idea that we should use worship as a means of evangelism. Other churches and parishes have tried it and that’s not what worship is for.
In the area of Evangelism, we need to get ourselves out there in the public eye more often than we have in the past year. That’s one important thing. After five years, im recognized enough around town to be a visible part of our community. That’s been an important aspect of bringing new people into our family. But the biggest and most important and best way to get more people to church is to invite them. If everyone in the room today, worked this year to invite just person to church this year, we could double the size of our parish. Who will you try to bring into the church this year? Think of one person, just one and start working on them remembering that the best thing you can to start that process is to start praying for them on a daily basis. And then start inviting them.
In the area of Education, Holy Cross has a robust offering of Educational opportunities. We have the Rector’s forum on Several Sundays and Weekly Tuesday Evening meeting that goes back and forth between a book of the Bible and some other book. We also have a Men’s Bible study and a women’s bible study that meet once a month. I can share with you that I have felt personally heartbroken when I have made direct invitations to people to participate in the Rector’s forum and been told “no I’m not interested.” I can honestly say I’m hurt when I hear that. What I want to ask of each of you today is to commit to participating in some form of the educational study offerings that we have here. They are really one of my favorite parts of my job. You don’t have to talk in the groups, you don’t have to do answer questions, but just come and see, like Andrew told his brother Peter in today’s lesson.
Pastoral care is probably my second favorite part of my work here at Holy Cross. You actually pay me to go and visit people and I really do enjoy visiting our shut ins, and being there for people in their time of need.
At the same time, caring for our parishioners is a job for everyone. I’m always delighted to hear from our shut ins that so and so called them or stopped by and visited them. Our shut ins don’t make it here because they’re not able, so please, keep them part of the family this year by reaching out to them with a phone call, a card, or a visit.
I would also like to institute Lay Eucharistic Visitors in the parish. In some parishes, there are trained volunteers that take Communion from the Mass on Sunday to shut-ins each week after mass. I wonder if this might be something we can try here? Would any of you be willing to go visit a shut-in after mass on Sunday and bring them communion?
Another ministry, which exists in our parish, but you don’t hear much about is our Parish Nurse. While you don’t hear much about it, I want to just say two things. This is a wonderful ministry that has done a lot of wonderful things for our parish this past year, the results of which are private and confidential, and so done not so much in secret but in a way to keep people’s personal medical lives private. And secondly, if you have any questions regarding your health care, we have a Nurse in our parish who is available to you to help you get answers.
The final area I want to speak about today is Stewardship. Stewardship is perhaps the second most important dimension of parish life after Evangelism. Each of us is called to share the Gospel with others, in intentional ways in our lives, that’s evangelism. What follows on evangelism’s heels is Stewardship.
Stewardship involves a lot of dimensions. One of those dimensions is the maintenance of our day to day operations. You received today a report from our Treasurer. You’ll see that at the end of the year, we made ends meet and all our bills are paid. That’s wonderful. That is a blessing from God.
But one of the things that concerns me is that as you look at the report, only half of our income came from regular giving envelopes. Almost 10% came from our endowment, and almost 25% came from special projects, which are funded by things like the annual Raffle. As we look to the future, we need to have a better understanding of how God wants us to be good stewards of our annual expenses and income. A few years ago, a few parishioners went to the Parish Leadership Conference and heard about a program called “New Consecration Sunday.” This year, I’m going to be enlisting the help of some of you, and some fellow clergy to help us better understand how we might become better givers in the kingdom of God for our annual budget.
Lastly, as members of our Parish we are responsible for being good stewards of the things we have been given, our buildings being a key component. We have done a great job over the years of keeping up and maintaining the buildings we have, and being able not just to use them for our own needs, but to offer them up to the community for their needs. Our ability to be there for our surrounding community is a great blessing to us as well as to the people of Warrensburg. Our buildings are used on a regular and continuing basis by the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, North Country Ministry, Alcoholics Anonymous, and for private gatherings, such as baby showers, and receptions following funerals to name a few. I’m grateful we’ve got the beautiful and functional space to do that. And as part of our life as a family we’re charged with making sure its available for years to come.
To that end, our vestry has decided that we need to undertake another capital campaign this year. Over the last several years we’ve raised money to pay for big projects like the new roof over the kitchen, insulating the chapel roof, and the repaving of the driveway. This year, we don’t have any big ticket projects in the works. But we do have a number of smaller projects which need our attention. IN the next few weeks, you’ll be receiving a letter asking you to join in a capital campaign to raise $25,000 in order to get accomplish those little projects we need to get done. When you get that letter, please consider prayerfully how you will contribute.
I want to end this morning on a personal note. Its hard to believe that its been five years since I first stood up here and addressed you as your Priest-in-Charge. Remember that? I was 9 days into this thing called “being a priest.” I want to say how grateful I am to you all for all your love and support you’ve shown me. You’ve continued to teach me what it is to be a family in Christ. I know that I haven’t always been on top of my game, but I couldn’t do any of it without the love and help you’ve given me. I truly hope that someday I can somehow repay you all for what you have done for me. I can’t even begin to express what it means. But from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I really do love being here with you all, and serving you as a priest in God’s Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. And I truly hope that this year will bring great blessings on our church family.
May God bless you all as you have blessed me these last few years.
Key Points from the Report to the Annual Meeting
- In everything we do this year, ask with Saint Paul, “Lord what would you have us do?” (Lord, is this what you want us to do?)
- Find a community outreach program and build on one which we have already
- Increase service within our parish
- More people helping out with events within the parish. (Breakfasts (Vestry), parish dinners, quiche luncheon, Christmas Bazaar)
- Need a server for the 8 am service.
- Host a worship event that the wider community would participate in
- Get out in the public eye as a parish.
- Every member invites one person to become part of the Holy Cross Family this year.
- Start by praying for them
- Then, invite them to “Come and See!”
- Encourage more people to participate in some for of Christian Education
- Rector’s Forum
- Tuesday Evening Bible Study
- Men’s Bible Study
- Women’s Bible Study
- Encourage parishioners to reach out to shut ins
- Cards, visits, phone calls
- Lay Eucharistic Visitors – bring communion on Sunday to a shut in
- Keep people informed about the availability of the Parish Nurse
- Hold a New Consecration Sunday program this year.
- Conduct an Capital Campaign to raise $25,000 for “small” upkeep projects around the parish
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, every year in our three year readings cycle there is a Sunday given over to the theme of Shepherds. We commonly call those particular days “Good Shepherd Sunday” because very often we find in our readings Jesus telling us and reminding us that he is the Good Shepherd who keeps watch over his flock.
Today is that day in our lectionary cycle and I’m wondering if I missed something because I don’t know about you, but I didn’t hear Jesus say anything about “I am the Good Shepherd.”
Today, Lectionary Year B – Proper 11, might rightly be called “Bad Shepherd Sunday!”
Each of our readings addresses the image and motif of God’s flock and the shepherds he has appointed over it. The job of any shepherd is to lead and guide the flock out to pastures of the LORD, where it may graze and be nourished and be blessed; to guard the flock from predators who would come to harm the flock; and to guide it back to a place of safety.
Throughout the history of Israel, God gave his people leaders who were to shepherd his people in his name. They were to guide the flock into the way of God; to guard it against unfaithfulness; and to bring them finally into the safety of God’s salvation. As it turns out with everything that we human beings get our hands involved in, not everything went according to how God desired.
The shepherds of God failed in their duties. Rather than gathering the flock, the scattered it, destroyed it, and drove the chosen people away. Over and over again in the Gospels, we hear Jesus criticize the Pharisees and Sadducees for laying heavy burdens on God’s people, while they themselves refuse to lift a finger.
As he looked upon God’s people he saw them as sheep without a Shepherd and his heart went out to him. He would be their shepherd and we would be his people.
And so we rejoice because Jesus is our shepherd. He is the one who leads us beside still waters and into green pastures, the joy and blessedness of God.
As God had done in the past, Jesus did when he ascended to the throne. He appointed ministers, who would shepherd the people of God in the Church. Those are the Apostles, and their successors, the Bishops. That’s why Bishops carry that crozier (that walking staff), shaped like a shepherds crook. It reminds us of two things:
One, that they have been appointed to shepherd the flock of Christ, to watch over it, to guard it, and to lead them to Christ, who is our salvation.
Secondly, it reminds us of our one true shepherd, Jesus, for whom those bishops work.
And as we remember the one true shepherd, the Good Shepherd of our souls, we are also reminded that although Ministers of God’s Church, the Bishops and Priests, and Deacons, are called by God to be his ministers in that Church, they are still human.
They, indeed we, are but an image, an imperfect image of the Good Shepherd. While we strive to show forth Christ in our day-to-day lives, and in our ministrations to God’s people, we too are human, sinners in need of the Grace and redemption of God.
As a minister of God, and representative of the Bishop, from whom my ministry comes, I want to say to you this:
Though I am a priest, chosen by God and given grace to carry out God’s ministry among you, I will from time to time fail you. I will fail to represent Christ the Good Shepherd in your midst.
And when I do, as I have done from time to time in my own life when the ministers of God have failed me, I want you to remember that it is Christ Jesus who is the Good Shepherd of our souls.
The worldly leaders of the Church will fail- it’s part of our nature which like everyone else’s is in need of saving grace and redemption by our Lord.
When we fail you from time to time, pray for us. Rather than having it come to you as a surprise, say “I was wondering when it would happen.”
Neither the Church nor your priest is your savior. All of us have one savior, and one Lord, and one Good Shepherd.
This morning, clergy and ministers around the world are hearing the warnings given through Jeremiah “Woe to shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture.” And we are mindful of the high calling that God has placed upon us as those called to minister to the Flock of Christ.
And we, or at least I am mindful of the fact that I can’t do this thing called ministry which God has called me to without your support, which means your graciousness, mercy, and forgiveness in my shortcomings and your prayers.
Please, never forget that as your priest, who leads you in worship; who tries to teach you the will of God; and who tries to tell you of God’s love for you – as your priest, I need your prayers – I need you to pray for me, that I may accomplish what God has put me here to do. And that job is first and foremost to point you to the Good Shepherd, Jesus our Lord, who with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, is One God, now and forever. Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This morning I want us to walk away with one piece of knowledge. I want us to leave here today knowing just one thing – that we are called by God to be prophets.
What is a prophet? A prophet is one who acts as a channel of communication between God and the world and who tells the world what God is trying to say to the world.
It’s an awesome responsibility. It’s a responsibility we took on when we received our salvation in Christ at Baptism.
And frankly, it’s a responsibility that many, if not most, modern day Christians ignore. It’s not hard to imagine why. The modern world has rejected Christianity. We’re living in a post-Christian World. And increasingly, we’re living in an world and a country that not only doesn’t want to hear about God, we’re living in a world that wants to silence religion in the public sphere.
The world is telling us to keep our religion to ourselves. We can believe whatever we want on Sunday morning but as soon as Monday rolls around the world wants us to set our religiously informed convictions aside.
But take comfort. Take comfort because the world has forever and ever amen, rejected the Prophets who dare to speak the truth which God has planted in their hearts.
Amos, a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees was called by God from among his flock and told to go and prophesy to Israel 750 years before the birth of Christ.
And the King, Jeroboam of Israel, didn’t like what God was saying through Amos. And so he sent his priest, Amaziah, to tell Amos “O seer, go, flee to the land of Judah (that is leave the country) and earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel…”
So take comfort – God’s prophets have long been rejected.
But proclaim the message which God has given us we must, even when we are rejected.
Amos refused to flee. He couldn’t flee and neither can we because the message we have is from God.
And what is our message? What is the message that God has given to us to proclaim?
It’s the most powerful message that he ever asked anyone to proclaim.
The message is the Good News – the Gospel. And the Gospel is and always has been Jesus Christ, in whom we find our salvation.
For those who turn to him, repenting of their sins, God forgives them, and offers them new life in his son Jesus, and he makes us his children by adoption, forgiving us our trespasses.
And this salvation has been the plan of God all along – it is the mystery which was hidden in ages past but has been revealed to us in Jesus: that God wants us to dwell with him forever in eternal life.
God calls you and me to be prophets and heralds of this Good News.
He calls on us to share the message of salvation with all whom we meet. And he calls us to live as Children of Grace who have received that wonderful gift.
That means that our lives, how we live our lives, how we treat others must be informed by the idea that God has called everyone to be in a relationship with him. He wants all people to love him and to know the love that he has for them.
And so, yes, part of our ministry as prophets of the Good News is to remind people of the hard truth of our sinfulness. We need to remind ourselves and the world that without God we are broken and we can’t fix ourselves.
I think that’s why the world hates the prophets so much. Every prophet, including you and me, has to talk about the hard truth so sin, which separates us from God.
But once we get past that – once we know that we’re broken, once others come to accept the hard truth that we’re broken and unable to fix ourselves, we come to the beautiful truth that God is ready to give us a new life. Not fix the old one. As the Bible says, you can’t put new wine in old wineskins – you can’t put a new spirit in an old life, so God’s gonna give us a new life and a new spirit and a new heart.
And maybe you’re sitting there right now thinking – you know father, I have someone in my life who I would really like to see here in Church. I have someone in my life that I really wish would come to accept the Good News, someone who I want to meet Jesus, but no matter how hard I’ve tried they just wont come to him.
Well, let me share with you one of my favorite quotable bishops, Bishop Michael Marshall. He had this line, and maybe I’ve used it before. He points out that before the breakthrough comes the breakdown. Or maybe he said “after the breakdown comes the breakthrough.” Either way what he has it right.
All of us need to learn our utter dependence on Christ. Now for many of us, we’ve come to church and we’ve been in a relationship with our Lord and God for all our lives and that’s wonderful.
But there are many out there for whom that isn’t the case. For those people, for us too, but for those people especially, the only thing we can do is wait and pray until they experience the breakdown. Because before God can breakthrough with his grace, they need to breakdown – the need to break down of that pattern of self reliance, that thought that they can put the pieces of their lives together on their own. Someday it’ll happen. Jesus tells there are healings which can only happen by prayer and fasting on our part.
God calls us to be prophets – to share the Good News – which is Jesus. The world will reject us, but like Amos, we mustn’t back down from the truth which God has planted in our our hearts – so Go- Go out into the world and proclaim the Good News to the people of the world who so desperately need to hear it:
God has called us to be his children and to dwell with him, in his Kingdom, forever and ever. Amen.
Today’s reading from II Corinthians gives us the opportunity this morning to talk about something which we’ve not really talked about since I arrived: Stewardship.
Stewardship is the caring for and the right relationship with the “things” which we have. It encompasses every dimension of our lives – our lives together as God’s People in the Church of the Holy Cross and as individuals in our daily lives. It involves a wide variety of topics- stewardship of our bodies – taking care of ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually. It includes taking care of our properties – maintaining these beautiful buildings so that we can pass them on to future generations of Holy Crossers in good condition. And it involves our finances – that is, what is our relationship to our bank account? That’s primarily what I want to talk about today.
Jesus spoke about money and our relationship with our money and material goods more than any other topic during his earthly ministry. And he did so, I think, because he knew that if we had a wrong relationship with our “stuff and things,” particularly our finances, we would also have a bad relationship with not only those around us, but also with our Heavenly Father and his Kingdom. Look at how often money and property are the causes of arguments among families and friends, even among married couples. Money is a major part of our lives. We really can’t avoid dealing with it. And so, the only thing we can do it make sure that we are dealing with it and using it rightly as God intended.
So, how is it that God wants us to use the things which we have?
In very simple terms, he wants us to use them bless others. Out of our abundance, God asks us to bless others.
Now, you may say “God hasn’t blessed me with an abundance of money or wealth.” To that I would say – I know the feeling. But the reality is that, unlike some of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I’ve never gone hungry. I may not have had the really nice steak I would love to have, but I’ve had enough to eat and I’ve had enough left over to share. I do have an abundance with which God has blessed me. We need to be careful about what we think is “an abundance” lest we begin to think we are poor and a spirit of poverty over takes us.
In short, God wants us to use what he has blessed us with and use it to bless others in his Holy Name.
Now, we are all familiar with the tithe. A tithe means 10% giving. And in the Old Testament, the tithe was an obligatory offering to the God and the way that it was given to God was through the Temple. And that offering given to God would then be used to support the ministries.
In church today we talk about the tithe as the standard of Giving. Our giving should be 10% of our income. As one person who I know tithes once pointed out to me – the tithe belongs to God – that’s his, it doesn’t belong to you. Your giving starts after the 10%. Well, I don’t want to push you that far yet. I want you to start considering the tithe.
Although most of the teachings regarding the tithe are found in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, Jesus does in fact teach that we should be tithing. But what’s interesting is that he sees tithing as one of the minor points of our faithfulness to God – minor in that it should be a given, not something which we brag or boast about, nor something we spend much time debating about.
This morning’s reading from Second Corinthians gives us one of the longest New Testament discourses on giving. Through out much of his itinerant ministry, Paul would ask congregations to make a gift of money for the relief of the poor in Jerusalem. As he would travel about, he would send off that money with a member of the congregation back to Jerusalem. He didn’t make a flashy collection with a plate or basket. Rather, when he arrived, he would arrange for someone to take the money that had been collected and bring it to Jerusalem. And if he thought it would be good for him to go at the same time he would. Our giving shouldn’t be flashy either – it should be the outpouring of a generous and loving heart in response to God’s blessings upon us.
In today’s reading Paul writes to the Corinthians who had agreed to make a gift to the church in Jerusalem but hadn’t followed through. And in his exhortation to them to make good on their promise, he teaches us about how we should be in our own giving.
First he tells us that our giving has to do with the genuineness of our love for God. Love is not expressed in empty words but rather, love is expressed and made known in action. We may say we love someone but if we don’t act accordingly the words are empty. Loving God with all our heart, all our minds, and all our strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, demands that we follow up what we say with what we do. If we love God and we love the church, then we must give of our selves in time, talent, and treasure in order to make good on what we have said we feel.
Secondly, Paul reminds us of why we ought to give. If we are to follow the examply of our Lord, we must remember that he, in a generous act of love for us became poor so that we might become rich. That is to say, that he became man so that we might be blessed with riches of eternal life. Our giving is a response to the Gospel – it is following the example of our Lord’s giving generously of his whole self.
And finally, Paul reminds us the acceptability of our gifts. Paul doesn’t use the word tithe. That is, he doesn’t say how much we should give because that actually might be restrictive. Rather, he tells us that where there is eagerness to give – that is where our hearts are eager to give of our goods – the gift will be acceptable if our eagerness matches our means – that is what we have. He tells us that we don’t need to impoverish ourselves to help others, but we should be giving and our hearts, inspired by the Holy Spirit will convict us of what the right amount of giving will be.
“The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little do not have too little.”
As you look at your own stewardship, I encourage you to bring God into the picture. He calls on you to share what you have for the building up of his Kingdom – so that the ministries he wants done here may be carried out to his honor and his glory.
So let us seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit that in turn we may learn to be good stewards of the blessings we have been given, so that we may use them to bless others and bring honor and glory to our God who is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(This is a written approximation of the sermon I delivered on Sunday. It is unedited as I gave the sermon without these notes at each service)
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you keep up on the news lately, you may have car accident on I-87 just south of exit 23 on Friday evening. I want to share with you this morning my own experience of what happened that night.
It really starts earlier that day when the paramedic in charge of scheduling text messaged me and asked if I would be willing to take a shift. I had to go down to and pick up my mom around 6:00 so I knew that I wouldn’t be able to start until 9:00 p.m.
At 9:00 p.m. I stopped by the squad building to check in with the paramedic on duty, the same one who called me earlier. I told him I would be listening from home. I arrived home around 9:15 and went up to the office, expecting to do some work on my sermon so that I could take all of Saturday off to spend time with my mom and also to go down to Crandall park and play radio with some of the guys from the radio club.
At 9:26 p.m. the pager went off for an accident on the on ramp. At 9:33 I drove the ambulance on to the scene. Looking ahead of me, I could tell the accident was bad. As we approached, a State Trooper, officers usually know for being level headed, calm, cool and collected, approached the driver side. The words and the way he spoke were unnerving. I knew this would be a bad call.
For 45 minutes firefighters from the WFD cut the mangled metal away from the patient so he could be extracted from the wreckage. For 45 minutes, though barely, he was alive. He never regained consciousness. Within a few minutes of being removed from the vehicle, due to the nature of his entrapment and the length of time required to move him, his body was no longer able to sustain life: he went into cardiac arrest.
In the back of the ambulance paramedics and firefighters tried in vain to save him. A call was made to a doctor. Orders were given to secure which means we had tried everything we could but there was no hope in saving this man.
Three firefighters sat back in their seats. The sweat pouring off of them was testimony to hour of hard and exhausting work we spent trying to save the man.
We placed a sheet over the body and exited the ambulance. There was more to be done: Equipment had to be gathered and stored. Police had to be spoken to. The whole scene had to be cleaned up and the northway had to be reopened.
There’s a well-known anecdotal story about St. John the Evangelist who was found one day relaxing in a garden. Someone comes up and asks him what he’s doing in the garden and not focused on some greater matter. St. John in reply asks why the hunter doesn’t keep his bow constantly strung – to which answer is made if you the bow constantly strung, when you need it, the wood will be warped have lost the spring which makes if work.
St. John replies – so it is with the mind – we must relax the our minds from time to time – so that when we need them they are fresh and ready.
I tell you that little story because for me riding the ambulance and helping with EMS is one of the ways in which I unstring my bow and relax my mind. It allows me to take my mind off for a short while the cares and concerns of the church and to focus energy on something else so that I can come back refreshed and renewed and ready for action.
I tell you that not only so that you know why I do EMS, but also because of what happened on that call Friday night.
I was in my EMS mode – I was focused on trying to help save a life – a physical life, that is. Like any Christian should, I said a prayer here and there as I went from one thing to the next.
But as I walked back from the wrecked car for the last time, a firefighter came up to me. It was the one who for 45 minutes had held the victims head between his hands from the back seat of the car while they cut the metal away.
He ran up to me from behind – “Father, will you say a prayer with me?” We walked to the back of the ambulance and holding hands several of us prayed. In my own weary way, I tried to vocalize our thankfulness that no firefighters or EMTs were hurt. I prayed the knowledge that we did all that we could and would give us some comfort and give us his peace and I prayed that God would help us to understand and accept his will. And I prayed for the departed soul.
As we drove down to the hospital, something I learned in seminary became real to me. Because of my ordination, I never really stop being a priest. At my ordination, that’s what the Holy Spirit came and did to me: He made me a priest and as such, I can never not be one until the day I die.
It was for me, a moment of self-discovery. Something which I had known mentally, I experienced in way i had never before.
In the gospel this morning, we find the Disciples on a boat with our Lord. They have been called apart by Jesus – and Jesus was in their midst – right there with them on the boat.
But when the storms arose – they became full of fear. They forgot that Jesus was with them and there was nothing that could overcome them. Their faith was shaken. When Jesus awoke and calmed the storm, he rebuked his disciples for having little faith for with him in their midst there is no need to fear.
I tell you all this – because in the same way that I was changed at ordination by the Holy Spirit into a priest, each one of us was changed and called apart by our Lord at our baptism. And each one of us, regardless of where we find ourselves can never leave that identity behind. We are alway in the boat with our Lord, no matter how bad things are.
Each one of us is marked as Christ’s own forever. And as we go about our daily lives, we need to remember that Jesus is in our midst by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And there in our midst, as the stormy and dangerous conditions of life rage around us, Jesus calls us to have faith in him and his power to protect us and to guide and to heal us. And what’s more, he also calls us to live our lives according to his example of self giving love and service to the Kingdom of God, which is grounded in faith and hope in the love of the Father for us, and which is the work of healing and forgiving, of being healed and being reconciled to one another and to our heavenly Father.
May God grant us the grace of the Holy Spirit to see his beloved Son in our midst this day and everyday – as we live out our vocation as Christians, marked as Christ’s own forever. Amen.
+ IN the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Of all the books of the New Testament, the ones I find the most difficult to read are Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.
It’s not because of any difficult moral or theological teachings we find St. Paul teaching in those letters, but rather, it because of what we learn from those letters about Saint Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian Christians and the Corinthians Christians’ relationship with St. Paul and their own faith.
I hate conflict. Its, I think some people would say, one of my weaknesses that I avoid conflict like the plague, even I really should face the problem head on. When we read the letters to the Corinthians, we find St. Paul facing head on the problems of the Corinthian Church. As I read the letter, I find my anxiety building and my desire to set the book down growing.
But there’s a reason why Paul was willing to write to the Corinthians in such strong, powerful terms. Terms that he knew would upset his readers and terms which even brought him to tears.
And I think we find that reason in a verse today:
“If we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” 2 Cor. 5:13-14
Paul was willing to enter into a painful season in his relationship with the Corinthians rather than walking away because he believed that they were worth it. He could have walked away, but instead, he knew the reward for his labor, which was for him a labor of love. The reward was that those to whom he had delivered the faith would be in Christ, and if in Christ, the old would pass away and there would be a new creation: “everything old has passed away. See,” he says, “everything has become new”
But this new life in Christ meant that the cornithians had to change. They had to died with the one who had died, and live no longer for themselves, but for Christ who had died with them.
Paul told them they had to live no longer for themselves but for another. What does that mean? If you’re anything like me, as someone who, to my own shame and humbling, too often lives for himself rather than for another, you too will probably find it easier to say what it means to live for ourselves rather than for another.
To live for myself means to be self centered and to be full of selfishness. It means to structure things around me for my own gain and advantage, rather than to be about self-giving and self sacrificing love. It means all my energy is focused on my own priorities, my own will, my own desires, and how I think things should be. It means I become angry when I don’t get my way, it means I refuse to forgive those who I think have wronged me. It means that I’m not willing to empty myself and humble myself and to forgive as I have been forgiven.
Living for oneself is a way of life that is deeply engrained within us. It makes up part of the fabric of our human nature, it seems. Its no wonder why, then, that Saint Paul tells us that we must die.
The old self must pass away – everything must must must be made a new Creation. We are convinced, Saint Paul would say, that one has died for all, and if we are to be a new creation, then we too must all die. We must die and be given a new heart, a heart of flesh in place of this heart of stone. The Love of Christ urges us on to this hope, this expectation of the faithfulness of God’s love for us.
Dying to self – and being raised to new life in the Kingdom of God – as a new creation. That’s what you and I were made for.
The difficulty we face, however, is this criticism from the outside world which looks at the Church and expects us to be, here and now completely and totally holy and perfect.
The truth is, that even when we have given ourselves over to Christ and died and been reborn by water and the Holy Spirit, we are still imperfect. For all of us who are baptized, we are baptized into Christ’s death. We have had the seeds of new life planted in us.
But that seed of new life under God’s reign is small. Small like a mustard seed. And it takes time to grow. But you and I aren’t the ones who can make it grow. The parable of the sower this morning tells us that. The farmer plants the seed, but then he has to wait for the growth to occur.
But that doesn’t mean we are free from all responsibility. It is God who gives the growth, yes. But we must allow the seed of new life planted in us to be fed and nourished by the rain and the sunlight. We have to till the soil to provide for it a good place to grow.
In real terms, the water, the sunlight, and the good soil are our faith and our response to God’s will for our lives.
We must be willing to cultivate our faith and grow in the knowledge and love of God. It is perhaps, only in that way that we can live no longer for ourselves, but for the one who died for us that we might have that new life.
The love of Christ – that’s Christ’s love for us – urges us on because one has died for all, therefore all must die, so that we may have new life – and be a new Creation in the Kingdom of God’s new reign on earth.
To him be the Glory, now and forever. Amen.
+In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus said “I am the Vine, my Father is the vine grower.” And again he said, “I am the Vine, you are the branches.”
Like last week, when Jesus taught us the Good News using the images of the Good Shepherd and his Sheep, we again find our Lord using analogy and metaphor to describe his relationship to us his followers. And again, he uses an image that the everyday folk of Palestine could understand.
In his day, Jesus could take for granted that his listeners knew about vines and vineyards. In our day, though, there are a few things which it might be helpful to point out.
- The branches receive their nourishment from the vine.
Jesus tells us that we need to be and remain connected to him in order to have life. Getting connected to Jesus and staying connected to him is perhaps the most important thing we can go in our lives. Through him we receive grace upon grace to carry us through this life and to bring us to the salvation which he offers us. We can never underestimate the love and the power that God wants to pour into us in our times of trouble. His grace is sufficient to overcome all the negative powers of fear and anxiety and hurt, pain and suffering that come against us to snatch us away. Over and over again, indeed, we read in scripture, that God allows these times of trouble, not creates them but allows them, to test and to purify our faith in him. But the only way we can tap into that grace is by remaining connected to Jesus the vine, through whom we receive that Grace infused to us by the awesome power of the Holy Spirit.
And how do we get connected? Well, first off, through baptism. In our first lesson, we read of St. Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. In this little vignette, Philip approaches the chariot of the Eunuch who is reading through the Scriptures. And he asks Philip about the meaning of the passage he is reading – the Fourth Suffering Servant Song in Isaiah 53. Philip in answer to the eunuch inquisitive spirit, gives him the Good News of Salvation in Christ. And when Philip is done the eunuch asks to be baptized. He asks to be made part of the vine of Christ and an inheritor of the Kingdom of God. And so Philip baptizes him – making him with you and me a child of the Kingdom of God.
And so in the first place, our baptism in Christ connects us to the vine. But how do we remain in the vine?
First, we must have a desire to remain connected. Our hearts, inspired by the Holy Spirit, must want to be connected to Christ.
Secondly, the Church offers the space to worship God in spirit and truth through the hearing of his Word read and proclaimed and the receiving of the sacraments– outward and visible signs of God’s promise of Grace – and sure and certain means by which he gives us that grace into our hearts.
But we must approach and receive these sacraments rightly – we must receive them with hearts that seek the grace of God, so that we may bear fruit and give glory to him.
- The Second thing we need to remember about vines and branches is that the branches are only good to the gardener is they bear fruit.
So, if we receive these gifts from God’s altar any other reason than bearing fruit for the Kingdom so that we may give glory to God and remain connected to him, then in a real sense we fail to take heed to Saint Paul’s warning to discern the Body before we receive the Blessed Sacrament.
God’s purpose for us is that we bear fruit – and if I may expand a little on Jesus’ metaphor, the bread which we break and the cup which we share here today, are spiritual means keeping us connected to the vine and the food which nourishes us to produce good fruit.
But there is another process in the bearing of fruit- and that process happens in our day to day lives as we go out from this place fed and nourished by God’s Word and Sacraments. And that process is the process of pruning the branches. That process happens to us out in the world. It is the process of God removing from us all that is not of him: Pride, arrogance, hypocrisy, envy, hatred, malice. All those negative parts of our lives, those negative attitudes and behaviors which are not the way which God wishes us to live our lives.
Sometimes that process of pruning can hurt a little. As our Lord told Saint Paul when he began pruning him on the road to Damascus: it hurts to kick against the Goads.
Each of us can probably think of times in our lives when we were straying from God’s will and God trimmed us back a bit. Maybe it was a taste of humble pie. Maybe it was an even more emotionally tumultuous event. But I’m sure if we look back on some of those events, maybe not all, but at least some, in hindsight we can see how God was pruning away some of the branches so that the Good Fruit bearing parts of our lives could grow and flourish.
Jesus said- Those who abide in me bear much fruit. In his letter to the Galatians – Paul tells us what those fruits are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
May we turn our hearts to him in worship today, seeking to be grafted in and remain branches of the vine, producing the fruits of the Kingdom of God. Amen.
- Got the hymns to John B. for Sunday.
- Worked on the CS Lewis class for tonight. Considering switching to a book of the Bible for Lent.
- Mass at noon
- Class tonight
- Meeting with Kerry B. (and his finance?) at 8 p.m. tonight to discuss wedding.