Author Archives: sjadmin

A Thursday Reflection 11.16.17

So what has happened to HOPE?  In my world as a preacher/teacher, the preparation and study that forms the basis for preaching during the Advent and Christmas seasons has long begun.  It’s curious that so much of what I read wants us to jump (almost artificially) into the “JOY of the ‘holiday’ season” (which for too many has very little to do with the birth of Jesus and the celebration of the Incarnation) but seems to overlook the four weeks that liturgically precede the Christmas celebrations.
“Hope” is the forgotten virtue.  Hope is supposed to mark the weeks anticipating Christmas.  But hope is so difficult to consider.  With our political divides usually deteriorating into hostility and outright enmity, with so many victims of senseless violence that only highlights the evil contained (as the poets would say) in the human heart, with the growing realization that too many younger women and teens have had to tolerate the misconduct of older sexual predators for far too long, and even with our world itself seemingly unleashing catastrophic fury on a humanity that has played (false) god with its environment, there seems to be little to be hopeful about.
And yet, believers in Jesus are called to “live in hope.”  Hope is not merely a faith in God.  Hope is the staunch trust that God is truly present among us in spite of our capacity for harming ourselves and others.  Hope reminds us that all time is in our God’s hands (to use the biblical phrase).  To live into HOPE means that while I may not see the entire picture or the end result, I am committed to and convinced that ultimately God will make all things right.  I don’t KNOW how this will happen, and I may not live to see this happen.  But I know it will.  I trust our God who loved humanity (with all its flaws).  The feast of the Nativity brings “Joy to the World” but the weeks beforehand – the time of Advent – brings Hope that this joy is not an illusion.  Hope is our conviction that anticipates the Lord’s final victory over the powers of darkness.  So when it is most dark for you, don’t be afraid to hope!

– Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 11.9.17

On Sunday past, reflecting on the notion of being stewards of our lives, I commented (and you all know this in your hearts) that none of us knows how much time we’ve been given to do the work that God has given us to do.  I told you a Campo family story – the death of my dad in such a sudden and instantaneous fashion.  “You know not the day nor the hour” Jesus warned.
And later that afternoon, we were all glued to whatever electronic media that was available as we, yet again, saw the aftermath of violence in our country.  A man walks into a church with a gun!  This is NOT the beginning of a joke.  It is becoming more and more a regular part of our culture and our nation’s story.
With sadness, I am just going to repeat myself.  I won’t be drawn into the debate about whether this a mental health issue or a gun lobby issue.  No one wants to listen to anyone who believes it is a “both / and” and not an “either / or” issue.  The evidence in front of me seems to indicate that all we’ll end up doing is wringing our hands and arguing our points and nothing will change and nothing will get done… again!
So the preacher in me shares a message for you.  I’m not sure when or even if those with the power to confront this issue will ever do so.  All I can do is let the tragedy speak to me, and hopefully to you.  You really do not know how much time you have to do the work you’ve been given to do.  You’ve been given talents and gifts to build up Christ’s body, the Church, as well as bring the love of God into whatever small corner of the world you inhabit.  You’re called to be a spouse, a lover, a friend, a parent, a child, a worker, a student.  We’re all to be an example to others and a friend for others. We’re all called to be there for each other and build up one another.  We’re called to be a voice that speaks when words are needed and an ear to listen when someone else needs to unburden his/her soul.
God alone knows how much time we have to do the work we’ve been given to do.  How are you using that time?

A Thursday Reflection 11.2.17

Can you believe that it is already November?  The year of 2017 is in its twilight!  We’ve experienced a year of political as well as meteorological turbulence.   We can now just about presume that anything a person has ever said or done in their past will assuredly have offended someone at some time, and yet even in such a climate, you still have folks who continue to speak and/or act in ways intended to demean or abuse others  – and then, of course, utter the required “mea culpa’s” that no one believes anyway!  Our culture is fractured.  The place of humans at the top of the food chain may well be in jeopardy if those who have the power to unleash nuclear war actually decide to do so.  Nature’s fury has been experienced this year in ways that should humble human arrogance, and there are still those (the poorest of the poor) who continue to suffer the aftermaths of storm upon storm.

However, Christians are empowered to be people of HOPE.  The end of this month brings not merely the termination of the liturgical cycle, but the beginnings of the New Year.  Advent points beyond itself and reminds us that humankind’s Savior, whose words and grace are so desperately needed to be felt again, has already come.  Our lives do not have to reflect the deep darkness of November mornings or the daytime gray of its skies.  We are the fools (for Christ’s sake) who believe that the light of God’s goodness is greater than all the forces of evil or nature that fight against it.

In the show The Student Prince, there is that melody that begins:  “I’ll walk with God, from this day on…”  As I write this on a stormy Sunday (eerily five years to the day after another storm battered us), just let me remind each of you that no matter the issues, the darkness, the challenges, the political stupidity, the evil or sin that we humans (or nature itself) might create, as challenging as 2017 has been for so many of us, we do not walk alone if we walk by faith!

A Thursday Reflection 10.26.17

Last Sunday, Abby and I were walking with several members of this parish as well as members of other area churches (and some from no church at all) in the “Crop Walk” which was to raise both awareness and funds to fight hunger.  So as she was leading / pulling / dragging me up one hill after another, she posed a question:  “Why can’t you humans feed yourselves and each other like you feed me? I don’t get it.”
I could have probably (maybe) provided her with all the ecological, economic, philosophical, social and political realities that create this issue.  I understand that sometimes choices must be made among providing for shelter, clothing or food.  I know such sad realities exist among so many of the world’s poorest.  I don’t want to believe, but of course we know it is true, that too many in our own nation face the same kinds of choices for themselves and their children.
I explained to Abby that nature itself (with its unpredictable cruelty) can devastate an area and remove food sources.  However, there are also the bad decisions we humans make upon our environment when we confuse “care for” our land as dominating and doing whatever we please simply because we can.  Some of us are blessed because we have been given so much.  Some of us for reasons beyond our control must make due with less and less.
Finally, I did console Abby with the fact that each year, when I work with the young teens who are preparing to receive Holy Confirmation, I impress upon them both how fortunate we are, as well as our responsibility as Christians, to care for those who have less than we have.
There are many wonderful organizations that exist simply to provide nourishment for the forgotten among us:  Bread for the World; Food for the Poor; or Crop Walk – to merely name a few.  The next time you stare at the filled plate in front of you, don’t feel “guilty” (a stupid emotional reaction that accomplishes nothing) but take the time to contribute either food or finances to those whose mission it is to feed the hungry. (At least this is what Abby thought I should tell you!)   – Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 10.19.17

I’m certain that I’ve previously written about this topic, but after last Saturday morning’s experience, I believe that I should offer this reminder for your prayerful reflection again.
Like most clergy, I am deficient when it comes to self-care.  Thus, with some annoying physical symptoms appearing, I postponed any trip to the doctor with the illusion that this would go away on its own.  Of course, it did not.  Saturday found me at the emergency clinic being tested for the possibilities of something potentially serious.  Fortunately, none of those issues are of any concern; however, and totally from “left field,” I was asked to submit to another x-ray because there was a spot showing up – something serious and for which I was completely unprepared.
So I waited in the quiet for the next 12 minutes (only seemed like 12 hours) to hear whether this “spot” was a fluke or something that required immediate attention.   In that time, I reflected not only on the plans for this year, but also the now available time to spend with JoAnne as she has pretty much recovered from her own surgery.
Not only was I planning the “what-if’s,” I was also ruminating over the “what-I-haven’t-done’s!”    What of the opportunities for spiritual and personal growth I’ve let pass by?  What of the chances to reach out to those whom I have hurt, even if unintended?  What of all the times I might have tried something new but failed to do so either because I didn’t want the hassle of listening to the predictable complaints or because I want complete assurance that something new would work before I change course?  How have I wasted time when it could have been spent living out the Gospel mandate of doing good for those less fortunate?  So much wasted time that we never get back.
Bottom line: the “spot” was not real – and while I have no idea why my body projected a nonexistent image, I am obviously relieved.  But now, what should I be doing to avoid such regrets?  Did God send me a “wake-up call?”   Perhaps. – Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 10.12.17

This post really got me thinking, so I share it with you …   Fr Joe

Stormy Weather

By Deborah Boston

“The floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”

Are you sick of hurricanes yet? My in-laws live near Tampa, so after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, they braced themselves for Irma. They sunk their patio furniture in the pool, slashed their outdoor awnings, and boarded up all their windows. In the end, my in-laws lost only one tree and never had to evacuate. Puerto Rico, on the other hand, is still reeling from Hurricane Maria’s vast destruction, with reports of widespread shortages of potable water, ice, and other necessities.

And then there’s today’s parable about the house built on rock and the house built on sand. It’s so tempting, isn’t it, to think that those of us spared these recent natural disasters have done something right? We chose our locations more wisely, or prepared more thoroughly, or were rewarded for our fortitude during snowy winters. It’s hard for us to imagine what our neighborhoods would look like after the kind of weather that Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico have faced. No house could withstand those winds and floods. Indeed, today’s parable is not about where or how to build our homes — it’s about on whom we should build our lives.

Whether we live on the beach, or in the mountains, or plains, we can never be fully safe from wind and rain and disaster of every sort. The fallenness of our natural world, of our human communities, and of our hearts will find us in any earthly fortress. Only God, who made the heavens and the earth, can keep us safe. Don’t read today’s lesson and congratulate (or condemn) yourself for your earthly safety. Instead, remember that clinging to God doesn’t mean the storms will spare your neighborhood, but that when the rain comes and the devastation is apparent, you will never, ever be abandoned by the loving God. Pray for your brothers and sisters in trouble, and for yourself, in good weather and bad.

Matthew 7:24-29

24“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

28Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, 29for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

A Thursday Reflection 10.5.17

If you were in Church this past Sunday (or if you have Italian DNA within you), you know that yesterday, on October 4, almost all the church traditions of Christianity celebrated the memory and Feast of Francis of Assisi.
I’m not going to repeat my sermon verbatim, but there are aspects about this extraordinary man that we all should seriously consider.
While there are so many dimensions of his life that are worth imitating, I think what most impresses me was his capacity to see beyond life’s limitations.  He “saw” what was not obvious.  Believing to have experienced the voice of God from within to “rebuild My church,” he undertakes the obvious (physical repair of the local village church building that had fallen into ruin), but from there he “sees” that so much more was being asked of him.  He needed to begin to rebuild a broken ecclesial community – a gathering of leaders more concerned with their own prestige than in spiritually nourishing God’s people.
The medieval world was severe.  Warfare, disease, abuse of power, ignorance, superstition, poverty, etc. were the norm and not the exception.  Francis (not a 60’s radical or some flower power child) was a man of passion and insight.  He could see the goodness of God in all of God’s creation.  He was a man of peace with all to whom he ministered, be they those wanting to follow his lifestyle of poverty, chastity and obedience or the animals that were the hallmark of medieval life – thus the images of Francis preaching to animals and why we bless animals on his day.  He wrote a powerful hymn about the beauty of God’s creation when he was sick and had lost his sight, and thus he could not physically “see” the very things he was describing and yet he saw them with the clarity of a poet and mystic.  He interjected himself into the crusades to stop bloodshed in at least one battle forcing both Christian and Muslim armies to back away from the killing field.
This was a man who knew that Christ had called him to make a difference.  He did.  So should we!
– Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 9.28.17

If there has been one thing that God keeps trying to instruct me (and there are more likely many more than one!), I am now slowly learning to modify expectations and never presume that my plans will (or even should) work out.   Trust others to follow through on a project, and you will eventually be disappointed.  Expect your family or friends to recognize what you do for them and see how that works out for you!  Passionate and honest sports fans have an ironic advantage:  they know that as they watch their team’s hope-filled season disintegrate due to injuries or unfulfilled potential, they will soon drift through the pain-filled weeks/months praying to be put out of their misery.  On a far more important level, over my years, I have officiated at (or attended) the funeral liturgies of too many children whose lives were cut short due to illness or bad choices – expectations to be unfulfilled and dreams that end in death.

It seems to me that we humans display both our foolishness and arrogance whenever we claim to “know” what lies ahead and to base our expectations (and presumptive happiness) upon such knowledge.  Didn’t we just watch forecasters truly struggle with tracking the path of Hurricane Irma, and even the model from merely 24 hours out proved to be wrong.  We are not infallible.  We’re not prescient. Not one of us can see beyond that horizon that would allow us to “see” tomorrow.

Faith, not in our abilities or lack thereof, not in other people and their strength of will, but in our gracious God and father, is to be the hallmark of Christian life.  I cannot and will not put my faith in political philosophies or ecclesiastical systems.  Let me keep my assumptions, presumptions and expectations in check because I can never know all that tomorrow will bring.  But I do know that God in Christ’s death and resurrection has forgiven me.  Whatever else lies ahead, while I may have hope, I ought to have few expectations.

A Thursday Reflection 9.21.17

I received notification a week ago that the next edition of the hard copy of our Diocesan Newspaper,  Episcopal New Yorker, is going to be dedicated to “SIN.”    (Yes, I could have phrased that better, but I wanted to get your attention!)  So this is going to be a theological edition, and editors sent specific “guidelines” (a/k/a – unbending rules) to which any article will be subject.  Among the most vehement was: “No article will be published which, in our judgment, points the finger at identifiable individuals or groups.”
Now, clearly, in the mind of the paper’s hierarchy is the fear of various defamation lawsuits. (You think?)  Yet, I wonder if this in itself is not symptomatic of where we have arrived as a culture, a society or even a church.  Let me explain.
For better or worse, I’m not sure that, with a very few notable exceptions, 21st century American Christians would even agree on what is the meaning of “sin.”  Even less, would we agree on what thoughts, words, acts or attitudes constitute what should be labeled as “sinful?”  From where do you derive your truth?  Do you watch MSNBC or FOX News?  Do you seek out a liberal or conservative preacher?  Is believing in global warming OR not believing in global warming a sin?  Do you listen or even deign to listen to any view other than your own?  (From an unsettling experience of long ago, a parishioner once complained to me that a visiting priest (supply) had a bumper sticker on his car that supported a particular candidate and that she was “horrified and offended to the point of considering leaving the church because he had the nerve to park next to my car” – true story!   As Pilate asked Jesus, and Jesus never answered:  “Truth, what is that?”
Can you discern the difference between those ecclesiastical teachings coming from Jesus Himself that remain of perennial importance as opposed to items of indifference:  My ailing memory does not recall Jesus ever teaching that this or that type of music must be used in a church service, but I think I do recall Him being slightly emphatic about the mandate to forgive one another from our hearts!
It will be fascinating to read this upcoming edition of the Diocesan News when it is eventually printed.   What will we find there?  What is “sin” all about?  What can one say to the person who tells his pastor that if she doesn’t stop preaching about sin, “I will leave.” “I don’t believe in it or need to hear about it.”  (Again, true story.)
And from the perspective of your humble author (and I may try to write an article for the paper), which is the greater need, the greater good:  to know what “sin” is or to acknowledge our consistent human tendencies to choose other than God’s way for us – but to come to one’s senses and to repent in order to once again experience that love and forgiveness which is ours for the asking – if we are truly sorry?   So what do you believe?
– Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 9.14.17

I found this reflection on-line.  What a powerful and necessary message for our time.    I would love to meet the author and shake her hand. – Fr. Joe

         Saying No for the Good of All
Daily Devotional •
By Eleri Kerian

Today’s reading from James is a strong rebuke and reminder that those of us who teach “will be judged with greater strictness.” James’ message is clear: guard your tongue and what you say ,for it will affect your whole person. James warns: “With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” This is an important spiritual lesson for us all: to reign in what we say to and about others. Our holiness is at stake.

I would like to take his command one step further. I’m an extrovert. As an extrovert, I have this awful habit of feeling like “since nothing is happening, I must do something else.” This is sometimes to the detriment of my family life. While what I am often asked to do by others might be worthy in of itself, I have learned that “guarding my tongue” means to not say yes until I have carefully considered whether God wants this for me and my family.

I recently read an unattributed phrase: “Don’t promise when you’re happy and don’t reply when you’re angry.” This hit me to the core. I’m an energetic doer, mover, and maker. A lot of things that I am asked to do would be completed easily in a perfect world. But our world is not perfect, and nothing is ever as easy or simple as I think it will be when kids get sick, my husband works late, and my perfectly planned day does not allow for misadventures. Just as I had to train myself to not give in to speaking uncharitably about others, I have had to accept that sometimes the Lord wants me to bless him and my family by saying no instead of yes.

 

James 3:1-12

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.