Category Archives: Strong By ’17

A Thursday Reflection 12.14.17

I often preach about opening your ears to actually listen to God speaking to you.  Lest you think that this is a merely academic exercise, let me explain how this works – and let me be the example of being hard of hearing!
Since my medical “adventure” these past weeks, I have been trying to ignore the unpleasant (to me) truth that for the time being, while I am still “recovering,” I need to slow down and not “do” as much as I usually do.  I must deal with change. There is a weight restriction on what I can lift.  I am forbidden to shovel snow (or anything else).  I must come to grips with an 11th commandment: “Thou shall no longer eat anything that either tastes good or once had a soul.”  I am likely to pass on some evening meetings if strength disappears.
Not only must I deal with “change,” I am told that I must let others “do” for me, for a little while anyway.  And while I try my best to hide all this, I am grumbling within.  Obviously, this is a rather busy time in a parish’s yearly cycle of events.  There is also the wrap up of expectations and demands from being an adjunct seminary professor.  Don’t forget family responsibilities.  Don’t tell me to “not do” things!!!
But this is exactly the entire point of Advent – and God has been screaming at me.  What is it we celebrate but a fact involving a truth who is a person!   What Advent celebrates is the fact that humans cannot make things right with each other or their God.  Never have; never will!  All that must be “done,” has been done for us in the coming of the incarnate God who is “the way, the truth and the life” for us.  The daily and Sunday readings from Holy Scripture are really in your face reminding, me at least, that none of the people we remember and none of the events we celebrate were initiated by human desire or caused by human ability.  It is God who does: we simply ARE the recipients of “his redeeming grace.”
Through these weeks, I have to keep listening to the haunting themes of O Come O Come Emmanuel because I am the one who needs to be “ransomed” from my foolish beliefs that the world is all about me or that I have to make everything right for everyone.  God has done this already.  I need to be silent, and to listen, and to learn to let God love me.  –  Any of this ring true for you???

– Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 12.7.17

I want to do a little Bible Study 101.  It’s too easy to hear (or read) a text of Scripture so often that we lose its significance or we are closed to new possibilities.  Let me show you how a change in punctuation leads to a change of meaning which can enrich our spiritual lives.
Remember, punctuation is a modern construct!  Ancient texts written in Hebrew, Aramaic and koine Greek do not have punctuation. When John the Baptist begins to preach to people and calling for them to look at their lives, he refers to himself and quotes from the Prophet Isaiah.  But did he say:
(1)    the voice of one crying in the wilderness:   prepare the way of the Lord.
                                                      OR
(2)     the voice of one crying:    in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.
Bible texts usually print and we usually hear the first line.  But what if John is telling them (and us) that to prepare a place for God in your life, you need to listen to that voice but you have to listen in a different place.  Maybe due to our crazed, time consumed, frenetic, overly consumer, ridiculously secular, obsessive, harsh, text filled, non-communicative world of ours, we need to get away from all the noise, find a place of “wilderness” and make a space for God in our lives.
This season is not about saccharine Hallmark TV Christmas films, or running about trying to find the perfect gift for that imperfect person in your life.  It is about preparing for the one who has come in history and whom we believe will once again come to make things right.   It is about redemption and belief in a God who has loved us more than we are able to love each other.  It is about preparing for God’s presence in your life.  You might need to go to a quiet desolate spot – figuratively speaking – to hear that voice.   But I guarantee you: the trip is worth it.

– Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 11.30.17

I have to tell you that I was slightly taken back by the response I got to a posting over a week ago when I reflected on the meaning of the upcoming liturgical season of Advent.  Unlike a different era, we’re not asked to “repent” during this season prior to Christmas as though this were a mini-Lent.  But we are asked, as Christians, to do something that, in our time, might be far more difficult: “…to wait in HOPE for the coming of our savior Jesus Christ.”
Hope is surely a difficult mindset to have or a virtue to live out in an era where anger, hate, intolerance, abuse, and indifference to the voiceless are considered “normal.”  Oh we have our selective outrages.  It’s taken decades for women’s voices to be heard on matters of sexual misconduct, and yet I can’t help wondering if eventually such outrages will just be accepted as part of being a “grown up” in the modern world.  We accept violence, don’t we?  Whether it’s a black church in Charleston or a mosque in Cairo, a concert in Vegas or riding your bike in Manhattan – there is no place immune from the impact of human sinfulness and darkness.  That’s just what we are and what we do, isn’t it?
At this time of the liturgical year, the sacred texts of our Christian tradition challenge us to live in the face of such darkness as lights in that darkness.  Advent reminds us that there is no issue, no force, no philosophy, no attitude, no theological speculation that cannot be critically examined, challenged or eventually healed by the all-powerful love and mercy of our God.  I live in hope because in my heart I know that our God is greater than all the darkness that humankind can muster.   I live in hope because the one whose name means “God saves” has been born for us, and because of His light, we are enlightened and empowered to enlighten others.  When I am at my moodiest and most given to despair for us as a species, I live in hope.  I “hope” you are able to do so as well. – Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 11.23.17

A General Thanksgiving from the Book of Common Prayer

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!!!

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 11.2.17

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