How “important” are any of us? When the school year begins, for a few idyllic moments, I have this illusion that I “am exalted in the eyes of men” (to misquote scripture). People are back from summer travels, and there are numerous parishioners in the pews worshipping and actually listening to my preaching. Then afterwards, of course, one listens to the deflating complaints about why this or that idea “just won’t work” and I am back down to my usual self. .. or .. I fulfill my commitment to teach the course in Church Law at the seminary on Wednesdays, get addressed by students as “professor” (with the inflated ego that comes with this moment), and then find, as an adjunct, I am relegated to a “classroom” the size of the trunk in a sub-compact car but with a broken a/c hanging from the window and other windows that only open high enough to let in flies and bees but no air! Lest I begin to think that I am “important.”
But the message of Jesus is exactly the opposite of my more humbling experiences: you and I are that important – in God’s eyes. The message of last Sunday: no matter how insignificant or foolish, no matter how many bad decisions we might make, no matter how often we do not live into our baptism vows but choose darkness rather than light, no matter how many times we “screw up,” the One whom Jesus called “Father” will always seek us out and welcome us home. It matters not how others think of you: in God’s eyes, you are of inestimable value. Every one of us at times in our lives has been that “lost” sheep or coin. As unimportant as we are through the lens of human experience, never forget that you are of infinite value to the One who redeemed you and calls you my “sister” or “brother.”
The pictures of the earthquake that hammered Italy last week brought back a flood of memories and thoughts. As a student in Rome between 1971-75, would you be shocked if I revealed that often were the days when, in spite of a possible conflict with a scheduled lecture at the university, I would “escape” on a primitive inter-city bus and journey into one of these picturesque villages and take in the local culture, dialect, architecture and, of course, the bread, cheese and wine. I have walked in piazzas (town squares) that today are no more.
We think that what we have will always be, but in a heartbeat, it can be taken away. Life can change so quickly, for good or ill. In the span of one 1-minute phone call, I went from a son to an “executor” of mom’s estate. In the span of another phone call yesterday morning, I now know my brother must face very serious surgery but possesses a body that cannot endure such a procedure. All you think you have can change in a moment!
This is a reflection that I hope will make you both appreciate and ponder. Look at the relationships you are blessed with. Are you grateful and do you show it? Note the blessings you have received in life, do you sincerely give thanks to our loving God who has blessed you so? Are you truly appreciative for all you have received and are you willing to share with those who have so much less? Do you take to heart that life is a journey, and that any point on that trek it is merely that – only one stop. Change, for good or ill, marks our existence, and will do so subtly, lovingly or with the fury of an earthquake (even sometimes literally). What you think you own is just yours to use, for a while.
So there is a reason I often ask you to pray for us as a church community. Pray about the changes that will come, whether we plan them or not. Pray for our sisters and brothers in this parish for we don’t know how long any person journeys with us. Pray that we always keep before us the vocation we have been given. Pray that with the Spirit’s guidance and help, we live into our calling to make Christ present to the world and we are grateful for all we have and for every thing and person given to us.
As the last bit of my “summer” (i.e., relaxed and not intended for any course or program) reading, I am rereading sections of a liturgical text that I first read decades ago. The author had a humorous but truthful point: nothing is so solid and “unchangeable” as the way we worship, and that as far back as the 4th century, it was discovered that the only way to introduce “change” into liturgy without having full blown warfare (whether in a parish among parishioners or in the Church universal among Bishops) is to “add” new things on to what is already there. Eventually the “new” becomes, in the mindset of that community, what we’ve always done.
As much as we pay lip service to the contrary, it has been my experience that humans abhor change. We know what works, why mess with it. (“If it aint broke…etc.”). And, of course, there is a level of comfort when we do things in familiar ways.
While this is almost a “sin” for any parish to consider, I believe that parishes need to be open to hear different voices, try different ways of doing things, be open to different ideas, different music at liturgy, different ways to preach and teach, create different emphases, be willing to make mistakes – all without the sacred mantra “but we’ve never done it that way.”
The more I experience how our secular culture is becoming more adamant that it wants nothing to do with us, then I believe that how we live, and teach, and raise our children, and worship is going to change – if we are going to in fact reach others and bring them into the joy that Christ alone gives. I’m watching this happen on our Diocesan level. It will also begin to happen to us on a local level. We will find ourselves making changes, and the gospel will be communicated in a different way to different folks. Our community will probably change in its makeup. And through it all, God will be praised.
This coming Sunday we’ll all endure the loss of sleep ritual known as returning to “Daylight Savings Time.” So we set our clocks ahead an hour but never really retrieve that lost hour of sleep – not really!
Again this works, for me, as a powerful metaphor for the spiritual renewal going on within ourselves and also regarding the renewal of our parish. Things will always happen to take “time” away from us, and we never have enough “time” to do everything we suspect we ought to be doing. (Perhaps we need take more seriously the words of the Confession of Sin: “… for what I have done and for what I have left undone …”).
We lose an hour of sleep – oh well. We lose a chance to invite someone to share our worship with us, or an opportunity to truly model the Good News of Christ in front of our kids, or even to exercise one of the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting or “almsgiving.” We lose a moment to grow spiritually or to enhance our parish community with some soul who may be seeking God – that moment is lost. Forever! Lent is always about time – and what we do with it!
For me, November is that month that should remind us that “time” (especially the “life” we’re given to make something of our lives) is so short. Last week I was reminded of this when I was asked to officiate at a funeral of someone who had died unexpectedly and accidentally: all the “time” family assumed they would spend together – now ended.
As I wrote in last Thursday’s Reflection, these next two Sundays mark the end of the liturgical year. Christians are asked to focus on the fact that all time, all life, is fragile, limited and ultimately in God’s hands, not ours. Even yesterday, November 11 (Veterans’ Day) we should have paused and remembered that at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the “Guns of August” were silenced for a time. World War I (“the war to end all wars” – what a sad joke that was) had stopped. The lives of so many snuffed out in what simply ended up being the opening chapter of yet another and more devastating war.
November is a month for taking stock. Our life is a gift from God and it is brief. So little time! (“…all time is in [God’s] hands”). A life lived without faith in or love of God and others is shallow. A life that does not know hope as a sign of the coming of Christ’s Kingship is a meaningless journey “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Without a relationship with the Lord, life promises to be headed to an “undiscovered kingdom” that is cold, gray, sad and ultimately meaningless. What are you doing with the “time” you’ve been given?
As you all know (and the commuters on Thursday / Friday will certainly know this because travel into and within NYC will be a nightmare), Pope Francis is in the USA to speak to the United Nations and to make a pastoral visit to the members of the Roman Catholic Communion in NY, Philadelphia and Washington. He will bring a message that the news media is amazingly discovering as one of a call to love and serve the poor – that to be a Christian is to be a servant.
No offense to those in the media, but news flash: this message has always been at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus. “The Son of Man has come, not to be served but to serve.” Service to others is the heart of the Christian message. I believe God is calling this parish to something special in terms of service to the “underclass” of our culture. I have heard a number of suggestions about what we should be doing now that the Carpenter’s Kids Program is over. Stay tuned: I believe the Lord is about to call us to be more and to love more than you can imagine!
As I mentioned in the E-News, for the next few weeks, I am going to mention, summarize and begin to explain some of the many resolutions that have become a part of the Episcopal Church’s life since the completion of its General Convention this past July 3.
Just background FYI: The General Convention is the supreme legislative authority in the Episcopal Church which meets every three years. Like the U. S. Congress (with which it has some similarities), the gathering is a bicameral institution made up of (1) The House of Bishops (which includes every bishop of our church) and (2) The House of Deputies (which is made up of up to 4 clergy and 4 lay persons chosen from each of the over 100 Dioceses of the Church). Therefore there are close to 1000 persons at this gathering.
Any resolution must be voted on and adopted in identical language by both houses or it fails to pass. Any change in language from one house to the other, in effect, creates a “new” resolution, and thus must be sent back to the original house where the resolution passed to be voted on again using the changed language.
Certain issues are considered so serious that in order to pass, not only must the Bishops vote in the affirmative, but the House of Deputies is then split into clergy and lay sections – by diocese – each voting separately. In that case, the resolution must be approved by BOTH clergy and laity separately from each other. You de facto create the need for three and not merely two affirmative votes. This is called a vote by orders.
Of ultimate importance, issues that would change The Constitution of our Church or The Book of Common Prayer must go through a reading at one General Convention, then those resolutions are sent back to the various dioceses for their information. Only at the next General Convention (three years later) can a vote be taken, and approval must be done in a vote by orders.
Next week: some specific changes that will impact our church! (Now aren’t you all happy that your rector is a canon lawyer?)
I have to admit that I am too old to get this “blog” thing. Short of God’s revealing God’s Word, does anyone need to hear any other person’s every thought or opinion? Not always. I admit that I’ve enjoyed writing this year – sharing some of my thoughts and concerns. I hope they have all been letting you focus on where we have come from as a parish and where we need to be heading.
This week I have a question for you: What is your greatest concern or desire for this parish? What do we need to be thinking about and doing if we are not only to grow in numbers or finances but also to grow in Christ’s love? In your eyes, what is important? I have many thoughts about this which I will be sharing in the coming months. I’d like to hear yours. Send them on to me. Sign your name. I will not post anything you write unless you give me permission to do so.
This past Friday and Saturday, clergy and lay members of every parish in this Diocese of NY met for the canonically mandated Diocesan Convention. As a priest, I am required to attend. Our parish lay representative whom you elected at last year’s annual meeting, Cecilia Stempel, also attended as a full voting member.
Each of these annual gatherings is both a time for “catching up” with friends and “listening” to the stories of other parishes in addition to receiving reports from Diocesan authorities. We heard of the good (a dying parish that has come back to life in Hamburg, NY) and the bad (even the diocese as a whole now struggles financially and is tapping into resources because parish assessments often are not being paid). We approved a diocesan budget and set further standards for new clergy in terms of interfaith knowledge. Yet we also couldn’t agree even to speak about how health care costs are going to be met in parishes – as the issue had to be tabled for further study.
And through it all, we broke bread at table and later at the altar. We sang, we discussed, we argued and most of all, there was an optimistic spirit that as one church under the authority of our Bishop, we will do God’s work and be what the Lord is calling us to be. I saw St. John‘s story being played out on a larger scale. We’ve got work to do, but “…(His) will be done on earth as in heaven.” It will happen.
Strong by 17