Monthly Archives: June 2018

Thursday Reflection 6.28.18

Last week New York’s Assistant Bishop, Mary Glasspool wrote this reflection / sermon for the priests of our diocese.  Given the divisions and trauma that we as a nation (and as The Episcopal Church) are going through, I thought her words were prophetically important for us as Christians.  I ask you to read these words, and remembering that while the context was her teaching the priests of our diocese, I believe we can all benefit from her reflection

Fr Joe+

I was speaking with a friend of mine this past week who had just returned from a retreat at Iona Abbey in Scotland. Part of our conversation centered on the worship there, and my friend reported being startled when, during the prayers of the people at one of the services, the officiant invited the following: Let us pray for those parts of the world that suffer strife and division: the Middle East, Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, and the United States.

In a very real way, I was reassured that there is a recognition outside of our own country that there is division and strife here, and that we are being prayed for specifically because of it. And the prayer shined a light on a reality that we are living every day: that of a divided and conflicted country. I keep thinking that there is a huge opportunity for the Church to model for people what it looks like to deal in a healthy manner with conflict; to show a better way of bringing about justice; to do the work of love in deeply wounded places. There are so many biblical passages we could adopt for this journey. I think of Paul’s words to the Church in Rome. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:9-10) I wonder if we pay enough attention to that last statement – Outdo one another in showing honor

Americans are taught from childhood that competition is good. It builds character, strengthens drive, fuels ambition, and pushes us to do our best. But the competitive spirit has been bred so successfully that it now extends far beyond our playing fields or boardrooms or shop floors. Competition between spouses destroys the trust and love necessary to maintain and cultivate the relationship. Competition between children escalates into gang wars that destroy families, neighborhoods, and lives. Competition between Christians also exists, and like other misplaced matches of world rivalry, it is a competition that creates only losers.  Individual churches and whole denominations have eagerly bought into the numbers game, convinced that more is better, that biggest is best. The church with more members, a bigger choir, a dizzying array of special classes and programs – we deem these churches as winners

The Apostle Paul does call Christians to enter into serious competition. But it is a contest with a considerable difference. There is no winner-take-all warfare against outsiders waged in the name of liberty, justice, and the American Way. The biblical challenge calls Christians to outdo one another in showing honor – not sanctuary size or annual budgets or number of people. The fullness of living that Paul outlines is not the fullness of size, but the fullness of the Spirit, the fullness of Christ. Instead of pitting Christians against Christians, in competition for Church members, supremacy of theological viewpoint, or (God help us) wealth and power; Paul suggests other ways of outdoing each other. Let’s see who can love the most, with all that true loving costs. Let’s see who can forgive the most, even when the woundedness still hurts. Associate with the lowly. Bless those who persecute you. Outdo one another in honoring people. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Outdoing one another in honor is not the world’s way of competing. The world, in fact, may brand the Church as foolish, futile, and failing. But the Church can still serve God’s world by modeling what it means to love, despite the hate being thrown around on a daily basis; to minister justice with compassion (in the words of this week’s collect), and by competing not for numbers, size, or even being theologically correct – but for joy, compassion, true justice, and forgiveness. The world should know that we are Christians not because we’re right, but because of our love.

With much love for all of you,

+Mary

Thursday Reflection 6.21.18

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                      
June 21, 2018
 

            This coming Sunday we’re going to celebrate the 259th anniversary of this parish. At present, the “plant” boasts of two church buildings, the Early Learning Center, and the “new” (cornerstone year 2006) addition (“parish house”). As I read through some of the history of this parish, I wonder how those first clergy and spirited Anglican worshippers would have felt to know that there would be buildings while there was, for them, only an open space. That there would someday be both men and women clergy presiding at the liturgies would have been unthinkable for them. That their spiritual descendants would have both central heat and air conditioning for a comfortable physical environment was beyond their expectations.
            The culture they experienced in 1759 would hardly have sympathized with parents who try to balance work schedules, traveling requirements and the many many (sometimes reasonable and sometimes not) demands for children’s’ activities which suburban middle class culture imposes to allegedly assure entrance into better schools. They would have kept the Sabbath rest without question. We all either cannot do so or choose to not to do so.
            The liturgy of that time was far wordier and much more penitential (as those who will be present at this Sunday’s “Rite I” liturgy shall experience). In that era, almost everything could be viewed as sinful. In our era, almost nothing is viewed as sinful.   Somehow I don’t hear the teaching of Jesus in either of those extreme positions.
            The Church of England was planting itself in these colonies with little thought for growth or leadership. (Heck, not one single bishop ever bothered to come to the colonies from England during the entire colonial period. So any “Confirmation Candidates” had, by necessity, to end in a potentially dangerous “road trip” back to London so that the Bishop of London (technically the Bishop of the American colonists) might confirm those children. Church “school” was non-existent – it was the responsibility of parents to teach their children prayers, the commandments and how to use the Book of Common Prayer (version 1662)
            Ironically in less than 30 years from its establishment, this St. John’s community would no longer be a mission of any Connecticut parish – in fact it would no longer be a part of the Church of England. Political events would take their toll. An original church structure would be burned down. The first constituted Rector would die as collateral damage from the war for independence. This church would become a part of the new movement known as the Episcopal Church, and from there, it would go through several cycles of growth and decline in both importance and membership.
            Simply: this Sunday is our anniversary. It is OUR day. We are spiritual descendants of a special group of believers in Jesus who left their mark in what was to become the United States, and New York State, and Lewisboro, NY.   As a parish, we are not the largest, nor the most important, nor the richest. At times we show incredible love for each other, at times our compassion for ourselves or others is without limits, and of course at other times we don’t always treat one another with due respect.   After all, we are redeemed sinners, lest we forget.
But as St. Paul wrote, “by the grace of God, I am what I am…” and I believe God put this little community “in the woods” here for a purpose. And it is the responsibility (and the joy) of each membership cycle, each generation, of parishioners – of members of the “Jesus movement” – to discern what it is that God has called us to do.   Just what has God called the present day members to do to make their mark and make this culture more loving? We say that we’re been inspired to make a difference.   OK. Now what?   259 years of St. John’s parishioners are watching us to see how we will carry on their legacy!
–Fr Joe
                           

Thursday Reflection 6.14.18

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                    

  June 14, 2018

This morning is Thursday June 14.  To those of you who have a more (or less) patriotic calendar in front of you, you might remember this day as “Flag Day.”  I have a less significant memory (in terms of how it might have affected civilization and life as we know it) but for me, an extremely important date that marked a life changing experience.

On June 14, 1971, having graduated from college about a month previously, I received a letter from the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York.  (Actually it was a form letter from a staff member, but when you’re a recent university grad, you see things having more significance than they may actually have had!).  The neatly typed note on crisp diocesan stationary simply informed me that, although I had applied to enter the diocesan seminary to begin four years post graduate study in theology in preparation for possible ordination to the priesthood, I was being sent on scholarship to live in the American seminary in Rome.  I was to attend the Gregorian University and begin these studies in an international environment at a theological university whose demands and tradition rivals Oxford or Cambridge.  (Here is where I make the comment “with the best and brightest”, but as my sometimes spiritual mentor the great Groucho Marx is alleged to have said, “why would I want to join any club that would accept me?”)

Although “technically” I had a “choice” in this matter, in reality – not so much!   One did not turn down such appointments.  Whatever my class standing had been, no matter my (total lack of) knowledge of conversational Italian (since all lectures there were in Italian), no matter how “average” my background in classical Latin and Greek, guess what, I was being sent into an environment that I could not control, did not understand, and in retrospect was probably as ill prepared as one could possibly be.

And yet because of all of that, I bless this date in my memory.   This was the date that marked a change in my life forever.  The Lord does that to us.  Unexpected challenges that both build us up and humble us at the same time.  From this point in my life, my classmates, friends and mentors would hail from all over the U.S.A. and indeed all over the world.  Because of years living and studying in an international environment, I tend to view issues beyond the myopia that infects us politically.  Living among those who were so talented taught me to push myself past what I had accepted as my limitations.  Being exposed not merely to great theological minds but to those who actually taught those minds gave me a love of scholarship which, even though I hardly share their status, gave me a love for learning that I never previously had.  I learned to experience the sights, smells and sounds of living cultures and important histories.  (Don’t tell anyone, but I even cut a class or two once to insert myself into an archeological dig so that I could touch history rather than just read about it!)

Remember those days when your life was so affected.  Remember the choices you made that shaped you.  Appreciate the choices made and the paths chosen, or even for the choices made for you that you did not appreciate at the time.  Pray for those who made such choices and who just might have appreciated your potential more than you yourself did.  Be grateful for the unexpected blessings.  Know that the Lord has given you far more ability than you might believe about yourself – if you would only stop and remember what has brought you to this day!

–Fr Joe

Thursday Reflection 6.7.18

Thursday Reflection                                                                                       
June 7, 2018
 
 
 A friend of mine commented that the last several of these “reflections” have been rather dark if not downright depressing. Granted that multiple school shootings, political gridlock, racist tweets, sexual misconduct, racial injustice, and the ever unpleasant reminder that nuclear war is not an impossibility can push one’s psyche over into the dark side. Is there hope for us? I speak as a member of a religious movement that seems to lack any influence on general culture (and if you doubt that, just remember, a week a or so ago, Ireland – about as “Roman Cathoplic” Is there hope for us as believers, as citizens, as parents, as stewards of God’s creation?
 These past several months, a group of parishioners and I have been reading / studying (plodding) our way through one of the Hebrew Scripture’s most difficult and haunting texts: The Book of Job. Imagine a “story” or parable – written in poetry but is essentially a series of lengthy arguments about the nature of God and the nature of evil – and one man’s quest for justice.
Those who make it to the end of the poetry text are left with a very unsettling response to it all: the voice of a God who reminds His human antagonist that you don’t know nearly as much as you think you do! You don’t have an overview throughout history and time as God has. Don’t be assuming that the questions that most concern humans are the questions that concern God. (Isn’t that a wee bit annoying?) Will “justice” in the present always solve an issue? What is experienced as horrendous at present often becomes the means or the impetus to make matters better if not for oneself, than for others. (e.g. If one heavy smoker dying wretchedly from lung cancer (clearly a tragedy and an evil) can influence others to not follow her example, has not some good emerged from the evil of the disease?)
Job in the end remains as a person with self-worth and personal integrity. He doesn’t have many answers to the darkness of life, but he is a person of faith, and he can live with his uncertainties. He can believe that God is to be found, not always in overcoming evil, but in my not being destroyed by it because I am not alone.
There are countless reports in the news that sadden me. But I have much to learn from Job. I just wish I could see things with God’s perspective.
 –Fr. Joe