Category Archives: Strong By ’17

A Thursday Reflection 5.18.17

Last week, a fellow suffering N.Y. Mets fan sent me a link to an article entitled “Does God Hate the Mets?”  Being passionate about the game I love and having little to “do” as I sat in the hospital waiting room “waiting” word of the outcome to JoAnne’s surgery, I began to reflect theologically about such an issue. My conclusions are not as one-sided as I had imagined.

First of all, beware of anyone who dares to speak for God!  If you read through the marvelous and haunting text of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, you soon learn that too many presume to speak for their God and are really only mouthing their own prejudices and presumptions.

Secondly, the notion of God choosing any sporting event in which to invest God’s time is a bit troubling.  Now I would not ever dare inform the Holy Trinity that they shouldn’t have some time off, but think about it:  how many issues are there in our world that we humans have so totally screwed up that perhaps God needs to be more directly involved since we can’t seem to get out of our own way.  Not quite enough time in any day to waste settling the not-so-serious questions of whether Michael or LeBron is the greatest player of all time.

Now here’s an argument against God’s involvement with sports.  Where God is, there is justice!  In sports, justice is never assured. Why is it that the better team does not always win?  Why have the Yankees won so many championships and my Mets have won 2, and if not for a freak error by a Red Sox first baseman in 1986, that number would be 1.   Why do professional athletes make zillions of dollars and those who teach our children or care for our sick or clean our buildings make so little?

On the other hand, where God is, there is Love!  In fact, God is love (so St. John wrote more than once).  The love of the competition, the love of pushing oneself beyond what is comfortable or what we think we can do, the love of the community which is the team, the love of the challenge, the love of the journey even if not always fulfilled in being seen as “the best” – they are but pale shadows of the love that God has for us and which we are called to have for all who cross our path.  I can see God, the source of all truth and love smiling upon athletic competition.

So do I think God hates the Mets?  I think I’ll let you try to figure that out.

A Thursday Reflection 5.11.17

I am well aware that “Mother’s Day” is a “created” holiday that fuels our economy each May in terms of funds generated for travel, time spent in long distance communication, purchase of flowers, cards and all sorts of things edible (whether good for one or not)!  I am also very much aware that this Sunday will mark the first Mother’s Day since my mom passed from this life into life eternal.  For those of us of a certain “time” (and there is no predictability when that “time” will arrive), a visit to our parents is not a journey to an apartment but rather a trip to a cemetery.

I hope I don’t fall into too many platitudes or sound too saccharine.  I am well aware that there are those in this parish who have not always had the best relationship with their mothers.  (And yes, you know your rector is one of them!)  I hope you will use this coming Sunday as a catalyst for spiritually important considerations.

First and most importantly, don’t let one designated day of the year be the only time to demonstrate appreciation for any person in your life (mother, father, sibling, child, life partner, member of your church family, etc.)  Christians celebrate Holy “Eucharist” – and the word “Eucharist” literally means “thanksgiving.”  Being persons who are thankful for those whom we love or who love us ought to be our “brand” or visible sign to the world.

Remember on Sunday that our culture still does not appreciate women in spite of its lip service.  Do you truly believe in gender equality in terms of respect, salary, and the right to express oneself without all the snide accusatory (and stereotypical) retorts?

Remember that if bringing out life and nurturing life are among the obvious acts of “motherhood,” then there most likely have been so many other women who deserve our honor and respect as well: those who have taught us, mentored us, cared for us (or our aging family members), nursed us to health, cared for our pets, stood as our advocates, healed us, and those whose intellects have changed our world.  (Again, see the film: Hidden Figures.)

To all of you, and you who know who you are, may God bless you and may you have a Happy Mother’s Day.

A Thursday Reflection 5.4.17

We’ve got to “be” what we’re intended and meant to be!  Abby has been teaching me a negative lesson the last week or so.  As winter finally came to an end, we had an “understanding” that it was time for a bath, like it or not – NOT !!!  O the trauma, the crying!  Greater speed and agility than an Olympic sprinter but reduced to a whining lump of pathetic puppy treating her humans as if we were “Mommy Dearest” (a cultural reference for those of you over 40).  And then, to top it all, she has now taken to waiting for me to relax my gaze and vigilance when we go walking so that she can do these 2 ½ double flip slides on her side to return to the self-scent which she craves!

Here’s the theological lesson:  This (in my view) naughty dog, as others I assume, needs to be and smell as she knows herself to be and smell.  Call it “dog-i-tude” or her “nature” or whatever.  She knows what she is meant to be and does all in her power to achieve this.

We Christians have, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, a new redeemed “nature” There is a new “normal” for us.  Living in ways of darkness, human imperfection, sin and death are not what we’re supposed to be.  We’ve been given life and given it abundantly (cf. this Sunday’s gospel)!  Living in the fallen ways of our culture that exalts death should make as much sense to a Christian as trying to make Abby live into the nature of her dog soap and smelling Chateau Foo Foo #56 .  We need to be what God has called us to be: it’s our true nature, now redeemed!

A Thursday Reflection 4.27.17

I had a most thought provoking experience last Thursday afternoon.  At the request of a Diocesan contact, I was interviewed by three Fordham University students as part of their assignment in a Theology course.  They had a series of questions they were posing to clergy from various Christian and (as I found out later) non-Christian traditions.  (I have never been anyone’s homework assignment before!)

Now from what I discerned from casual pre- and post- interview conversations, one of them is Roman Catholic, at least culturally, one is Jewish and one is a “none” as in “no religious affiliation.”  But all three of them happen to be taking this Introduction to Theology Course from such differing personal perspectives.

Now there were the expected questions for which I had been prepared:  comparison of the Anglican vs. Roman Catholic and or Protestant traditions (they never remember there is another “half” of Christianity in the East); the theodicy issue (“justify” a loving God in light of human suffering and evil – so judgmental when in college; where are we on the creation vs. evolution debate.

Then the surprise:  I was asked when I was 20 (their age, I presume) where did I “see myself” in 50 years as opposed to where I am today.  I was not only surprised by the question, but when we talked about it, one of them confessed that he often has asked this of his parents, and is shocked to have his question dismissed.  They never even asked this question that he seems (by his admission) so seriously concerned about – not obsessed but close!

Now I am wondering if this new generation of young adults who are going to replace us are all so far reaching in their concerns.  Of course the world of the early 1970’s would be so utterly foreign to this group.  Heck, my parents only just bought their first color TV in 1972.  How can anyone know what the next 40 or 50 years will bring: Internet and smart phones on the one hand, but 9/11 and world-wide terrorism on the other.

And yet, I find it hopeful that they are thinking in that direction.  It should remind the rest of us that we need to live for more than just the “here and now.”   Jesus’ retort to Pilate at his “trial” that His kingdom is “not of this world” should remind us all that we’re only passing through this earth for a few short years.  When I graduated high school some 50 years ago, I had no idea where I would be or what I would be doing in 2017.  Our purpose is to pass through this time and place and space we call our life, live out our commitment to Christ as best we can, touch other lives and bring others to that peace “that passes all understanding” as is our mandate.

The veil between now and your future is pierced only by God’s vision.  You need only be willing to be that disciple, be that Christian who will “love one another as (He) has loved you.”   And if you do, years from now, you will be where God has intended you to be.

An Easter Message from the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem

We, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, join together in proclaiming the triumphant victory of our risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ from the dead. The message of Easter, which was first announced in Jerusalem, and has echoed down the centuries, now resounds again in Jerusalem, the city of the Resurrection.

This year we have witnessed the restoration of the Holy Aedicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, two centuries after the last renovation, and almost one hundred years after steel girders were installed to support it. The completion of this challenging work is testament to the support from around the globe involved in the project, and to thank them for their prayers and support.

The service to celebrate the unveiling of the restored Holy Aedicule was a testimony to our spirit of Ecumenism and a celebration of our unity in Christ. We stood together, as one body, one voice, around the empty tomb. We stood as Christians united in offering hope, perseverance and determination to transform this world under the banner of Christ who conquered all evil through his Resurrection. The sacred history of Jerusalem, and particularly of the Holy Sepulchre, is a constant reminder for the whole world that in this place and at a certain time, the Resurrection was proclaimed for all people and for all time. The Resurrection inspires a resolute steadfastness in the living stones (local Christians) as living witnesses in the Holy Land.

It is our prayer that the hope established through our risen Lord will enlighten the leaders and nations of the whole world to see this light, and to perceive new opportunities to work and strive for the common good and recognize all as created equal before God. This light of Christ draws the whole human family towards justice, reconciliation and peace, and to pursue it diligently. It draws us all to be unified and to be at harmony with one another. The power and resonance of the Resurrection permeates all suffering, injustice and alienation, bringing forth hope, light and life to all.

Through the Resurrection and the empty tomb, we need to remember that pain, suffering, and death do not have the final word, it is God – who has the first word, and the last. This was the message of the Easter angel, who challenged the first disciples – both women and men – “Why do you look for the living among the dead? [Jesus] is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24.5).
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

+Patriarch Theophilos III,
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate

+Patriarch Nourhan Manougian,
Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate

+Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa,
Apostolic Administrator, Latin Patriarchate

+Fr. Francesco Patton, ofm,
Custos of the Holy Land

+Archbishop Anba Antonious,
Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem

+Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad,
Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate

+Archbishop Aba Embakob,
Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate

+Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey,
Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate

+Archbishop Mosa El-Hage,
Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate

+Archbishop Suheil Dawani,
Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East

+Bishop Munib Younan,
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

+Bishop Pierre Malki,
Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate

+Msgr. Georges Dankaye’,
Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate

An Easter Message from our Presiding Bishop

Easter 2017 Message from Our Presiding Bishop

It’s taken me some years to realize it, but Jesus didn’t just happen to be in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. He wasn’t on vacation. He wasn’t just hanging out in town. Jesus was in Jerusalem on purpose. He arrived in Jerusalem about the time of the Passover when pilgrims were in the city. When people’s hopes and expectations for the dawn of freedom that Moses had promised in the first Passover might suddenly be realized for them in their time.

Jesus arranged his entrance into Jerusalem to send a message. He entered the city, having come in on one side of the city, the scholars tell us, at just about the same time that Pontius Pilate made his entrance on the exact opposite side of the city. Pilate, coming forth on a warhorse. Pilate, with soldiers around him. Pilate, with the insignias of Rome’s Empire. Pilate, representing the Caesars who claimed to be son of god. Pilate, who had conquered through Rome the people of Jerusalem. Pilate, representing the Empire that had taken away their freedom. Pilate, who represented the Empire that would maintain the colonial status of the Jewish people by brute force and violence.

Jesus entered the city on the other side, not on a warhorse, but on a donkey, recalling the words of Zechariah:

Behold your King comes to you
Triumphant and victorious is He
Humble and riding on a donkey

Jesus entered the city at the same time as Pilate to show them, and to show us, that God has another way. That violence is not the way. That hatred is not the way. That brute force and brutality are not the way.

Jesus came to show us there is another way. The way of unselfish, sacrificial love. That’s why he entered Jerusalem. That’s why he went to the cross. It was the power of that love poured out from the throne of God, that even after the horror of the crucifixion would raise him from death to life.

God came among us in the person of Jesus to start a movement. A movement to change the face of the earth. A movement to change us who dwell upon the earth. A movement to change the creation from the nightmare that is often made of it into the dream that God intends for it.

He didn’t just happen to be in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday. He went to Jerusalem for a reason. To send a message. That not even the titanic powers of death can stop the love of God.  On that Easter morning, he rose from the dead, and proclaimed love wins.

So you have a blessed Easter. Go forth to be people of the Resurrection. Follow in the way of Jesus. Don’t be ashamed to love. Don’t be ashamed to follow Jesus.

Have a blessed Easter.  And bless the world.  Amen.

            The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

 

A Thursday Reflection 4.6.17

Last Saturday we had another of those power glitches where the area around the church (as far as the traffic light at Rt. 35 and Rt. 123 east and who knows how far west) lost electricity.  So for almost three hours, all my plans for updating lists and schedules, prepping documents, writing sermons for Holy Week, downloading and printing our Canon Law class notes – all those wonderful plans I had made came to a crashing halt!   Once again, I learn that as much as I plan out my schedule and think I am in control of my life, I get rudely reminded of how little control of my life I truly have.
I won’t speak for all clergy, but I know “me.”   I want to have things organized, processed and controlled weeks ahead of time.  I think I need, can and must “do it all.”  Whether I believe I can do it “well” or not never crosses my mind.  Whether it is really all that important or not, the most important question, hardly ever gets asked.
Approaching Holy Week should remind me (and maybe the power loss was a not-so-subtle reminder from my Boss) that what ultimately matters in terms of eternal value has nothing to do with what I accomplish.   The Paschal Mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection has been God’s way of telling us all: it’s not about what YOU do, what or whom YOU love, or that YOU have to merit divine love, forgiveness or redemption.   It is NEVER about what I have to prove.  Redemption is gift.  Redemption is grace and it is given not because I am so perfect but because I am not!  “When I survey the wondrous cross…” – so goes this hymn!  These events we remember and celebrate next week:  it is never about us, but it is always about what was done for us!

A Thursday Reflection 3.30.17

The end of March brings so many memories from my high school years.  Days of warmth are (in theory) right around the corner.  For many of us, the end of last class now meant a race to the locker room, change into sweats or various loose/smelly attire, race up 86th Street though the entrance into Central Park, and find various baseball diamonds where either practices or scrimmages or games were held that day.  Baseball was ON.  The “time” had come and that Rites of Spring had begun.
Now the older “me,” looking at life “from both sides now…” thank you Judy Collins,  sees this time as one for serious reflection, joy filled anticipation and prayerful contemplation.  My head concentrates on the most important liturgies of the Christian Year as they now approach.
Holy Week and the lead-in to Easter is now close on the horizon.  I not only have to “know” those liturgies to be a leader of prayer and worship for those who intend to keep these as “HOLY” days, but I have to know them so well that I am not thinking of the “structure” or “mechanics” of what is going on.  I have to have them in my soul’s muscle memory so I can appreciate what we’re doing and praying about without being bogged down in notes and papers.  (Kind of like being so familiar with the process of throwing a runner out at second base without having to think: “what do I do next.”)
The point is that the coming weeks bring a scriptural message which is so important.  It should make us all pause and think about what it is we are celebrating:  about what has been done for us (“on our behalf and for our salvation”) that has made us right with God.  To take the Paschal Mystery seriously as a Christian should mean setting time aside for worship, or prayer, for thinking about what matters most in the important scheme of life.
And after the Feast of the Lord’s Resurrection has come, I will then surely sit back, close my eyes, and wonder if on some baseball diamond in Central Park, there is some sophomore wearing a dirty uniform with a #40 on his/her back, putting on a catcher’s mask and living in the joy of that moment.  It’s not the same as joyfully experiencing what is truly important, but it’s not a bad anticipation.

A Thursday Reflection 3.23.17

The Lenten Bible Study is taking us through the “Passion Narrative” (the account of the arrest, trial(s), crucifixion and death of Jesus) which we hear on both Palm Sunday and Good Friday.  We’re looking at the similarities and differences in the four Gospel accounts.

I had forgotten (from study decades ago) that while we normally speak of the place where Jesus went to pray after his last meal as the “Garden of Gethsemane” – in fact, Matthew and Mark never refer to the place as a “garden” and simply call it “Gethsemane.”  Luke doesn’t mention it at all but simply refers to the “Mount of Olives.”  John makes the reference to a garden but doesn’t give it any name.

The patron saint of this parish, John, is the master of using symbols to make a point.  John’s gospel alone refers to this place as a “garden,” and much later refers to the place where Jesus will be buried as fresh new cut cave tomb (given by a disciple) that was located “in a garden.”

John wants us to know that, as he views salvation history, the story of humankind’s relationship with God began in a “garden” (called Eden), and will lead to its redemption coming out of another garden.  In one garden, humans made choices that led to death.  From another garden will come One who gave himself up to death “for us” so that we might share in His eternal life.

Got me to thinking on a cold snow covered “technically Spring” day that “garden” is not a bad image for what we should be: the soil that brings out / forth / up into existence that life that God planted within us from the day we were baptized.  There are a zillion different sermon notes I could share or points I might make, but for now, think of yourself as the “place” where the Lord of Life has planted His life.  What “life” do you bring to the world?

A Thursday Reflection 3.16.17

I knew a boy who grew up in my neighborhood a few years younger than me.  Talk about talent.  He had a rocket launcher for an arm, a fastball that was un-seeable so forget about being merely un-hittable and just about every high school girl had a crush (or more) on him.   I remember hearing that he got a full scholarship for playing baseball at a powerhouse university out west.   He never made it to the “big leagues.”  In fact he never made it out of his 20’s.
I remember being saddened when learning of his passing: homeless, on drugs, unloved and virtually unrecognizable – a sad legacy of the 60’s underculture of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.    I can’t ever say we were “friends.”  We only associated with each other rather than “knowing one another.”  We competed with and against each other.  We sometimes (not often) shared stories.  We complained about country and family and where the world was going.  We chose different paths.
I sometimes sit and wonder at why life takes us in the directions that it does.  Why was I blessed never to suffer from the diseased “isms” of alcoholism or drug addiction?  Why have I known forgiveness for my weaknesses, inadequacies and sins where some far more talented and worthy than I may have been crushed by them?
This is not about the unfairness of life.  Life is unfair – deal with it!  But on the morning of rushing about preparing for a blizzard, I can still sit here with incredible gratitude for blessings received, friendships that remain, and the love of a life’s partner that nourishes me even though she is unwell.  To walk the path that keeps us in a right relationship with God often means being humble enough to know that it is never about only my talent or only my abilities.  As St. Paul wrote and as Augustine and Luther knew so well: it is always about divine grace.  What has been done for us by our God!  And Lent for me is always the reminder that God has done so much for me.  Do you accept that love?  Do you accept God’s call to be in a right relationship?   That to me is what Lent is really about: letting God steer us back on track.