Aug 192012
 


Thirteen years ago today, I got onto an airplane in Zurich, Switzerland to come home from a visit with Marco’s family.  When I arrived at the airport and checked in that day I had the pleasant surprise of being “bumped-up” to business class because the airline had over booked economy.  I enjoyed the extra leg and arm room, the linens, china and flatware the meal was served with, and the hand-scooped ice cream that was served during the movie.  It was just as I was drifting off to sleep with my satin covered light blockers over my eyes, that I realized that if my grandfather had been alive it would have been his 100th birthday and that this cushy “bump-up” might just be his way of celebrating with me from the great beyond of God’s eternal realm.

He did live to a ripe old age of 98 years, and it hardly seems possible that he died 15 years ago.  My sister and I were the only grandchildren he and my grandmother had and so we got the full dose of their grand-parenting – they were such important people in our lives, and so not an August 19th goes by that I don’t think of him – he would have been 113 today.    

My grandfather was what they used to call a “salty old dog”.  He had spent most of his life from age 14 to age 65 on various ships – at sea or on the great lakes – working his way up through the ranks from deck hand to captain.  He sailed in the Canadian Merchant Marine through both world wars.  He could tell a big fish story with the best of them, and as a child, I could sit and listen to his stories for hours.

My grandfather stood 6 feet 4 inches and had ram-rod straight posture, which he assumed everyone should have – especially my sister and me.  Whenever he caught either of us slouching, he would run his finger down our spine and bark “stand up!”  He also believed if you slept past 7 am you were wasting the day away.  Needless to say in our teen years, when we were staying at their house, and our plan was to sleep until 10 or 11 am, his attempts to roust us out of bed at 7:30 – like a couple of sailors under his command – did not go over well with us.

But his was an enduring presence in our lives, and once we were old enough to be out on our own, we realized what an amazing man he was and what an amazing life he had led.  His faith was not something he spoke much about, but it was clearly a steady current in his life.  He surprised me by being my biggest cheerleader when I preparing to go to seminary, and he always insisted that whenever I wrote a sermon I send him a copy.  In his last years he told me that he had felt throughout his life that he was leading a charmed existence.  He said that he had faced hardship and calamity on shore and on the seas so many times – always escaping mostly unscathed – that he felt there was a special angel watching over him.  He said he hoped I had that same experience in my life.  What a gift that conversation was!

All of this came back to me this week as I was reading our scriptures for today – especially the 1 Kings reading where we hear of the transition from the reign of King David to the reign of his son, Solomon.  The writer of 1 Kings could have taken many different approaches to writing about this transition.  One angle would have been to describe the pomp and circumstance that must have surrounded the transition.  Another could have been to catalogue the political intrigue that one imagines was likely going on in the background of the royal court.  But the angle chosen was to focus on the connection between one generation and the next. The throne is briefly mentioned but the focus of the passage is on the establishment of a trusting relationship between Solomon and God, who had been so intimate to his father David.  Could Solomon have made the wise request he did if his father David had not shown such abiding trust in God?  It appears to me that David’s abiding trust in God was the spiritual doorway through which Solomon walked.  I have to believe that watching David’s reliance on God influenced Solomon to do the same and to see that if he had any hope of leading his people in a faithful way, the source of that wise leading was going to have to be found in his relationship with God.

All of us eventually come to the place where the generation before us passes on to greater glory and we are moved into the position of being at the top of the family tree – or as a friend of mine says, into the position of becoming the roof on the family house.  So how do we live when we are the oldest generation – How do we go forward? Hopefully with humility – knowing the generation that went before us did the best they could with what they had – they were neither perfect, nor fatally flawed – knowing the same will be true of us.   So when we are the roof of the house, what do we ask for?  What do we need from God to make the best choices and lead our families in good and life giving ways?  I encourage each of us to think seriously about that and then to ask with heartfelt faith that God knows what we need even before we ask, and is just waiting for us to turn and invite God’s blessing and guidance.

In the Gospel Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” In Jesus we are given everything we need to live lives that will give rise to faith, hope and love in the generations that follow us.  Just as the lives of the people in the generation above us have been part of the bread of life for us, so we too are to be part of the way Jesus feeds the generation that comes after us.  Mystically, we all are the bread of life he has blessed, broken and given for the life of the world. The trick is to remember in each new day to turn and return to Him asking his leading and guiding in each moment for the fulfilling of his holy purposes through us.

I want to end with a prayer that made the rounds of the internet a few years ago and humorously brings home the point that we need to seek that divine guidance for holy living each day, and perhaps every hour:

 

Dear Lord-

I’m proud to say, so far today I’ve got along all right: I have not gossiped, whined or bragged, or had a single fight.

I haven’t lost my temper once, or criticized my mate, I have not lied, I have not cried or loudly cursed my fate.

So far today I’ve not one time been grumpy or morose; I’ve not been spiteful, cold or vain, self-centered or verbose.

But Lord, I’m going to need your help throughout the hours ahead, so give me strength Dear Lord, for now I’m getting out of bed.

 

May we each continually seek the wisdom and strength of the Lord, that we may live our days as bread for the life of the world, in our generation.  In Christ’s name.  Amen+

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 Sermon for August 19, 2012: Generations  Posted by on Sun, 19-Aug-12 Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for August 19, 2012: Generations
Aug 142012
 

Dear readers of the St. Paul’s Church web site:

We’d love to hear from you! We’ve opened up a way for you to put in comments on postings on our congregation’s web site. Write back to us: look at the bottom of our web pages. You’ll find a place you can type your comments, questions, and responses.

(Don’t worry about strangers who post advertisements and scurrilous rubbish. Our WordPress web site system includes a good scheme for intercepting and getting rid of that stuff. If something does get through it’s easy to remove.)

Give it a try right here! There’s a comment form at the bottom of this page.

You’re also invited to write your own postings. If you’d like to do that please send a note to webmaster@stpauls-nbpt.org, and we will set you up with your own username on the web site.

 

 

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 We’d love to hear from you!  Posted by on Tue, 14-Aug-12 News, Sermons Comments Off on We’d love to hear from you!
Aug 122012
 


 

John 6:35, 41-51  The Bread of Life

Opening:

+ May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be ever pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  (please be seated)

The Bread of Life sometimes involves a Donut, sometimes a Pizza and sometimes Dancing.

I hope to explain by the time this sermon is finished.

For these past three weeks and the next two, our Gospel Reading is from John 6- known as the Bread of Life Discourse. The fact that the church devotes 5 Sundays to this discourse highlights the importance of this text. So lets take a closer look.

We find familiar phrases:

Jesus said to the people, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry,

 and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever;

and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

What do these passages mean?  One way to understand is to look at the way we pray.  Our prayer informs our belief (Lex Orandi  Lex Credendi). The law of prayer is the law of belief. By examining the way we pray, we gain insight into the meaning of this text. Lets look the Bread of Life discourse through the lens of the Eucharist. I’d like to share three experiences of praying the Eucharist and how it has informed my belief and understanding of what we are about this morning as well my understanding of the Bread of Life discourse in today’s Gospel reading.

 Sometimes the Bread of Life involves a Donut:

Lets go back to 1974

  • Aunt Patricia Long- Sister of Mercy.  Assigned to a church in Concord NH. She encouraged by parents and their siblings to attend the Sunday morning family FOLK Mass.
  • I was 8 years old. This was one of my first memories of attending church.
  • My family was gathered in a gym. Lots of guitars and tambourines. Pretty creative those days.
  • In Philadelphia eleven women were ordained in Episcopal Church.
  • What do you think I remembered most? A powerful sermon? A liturgy well celebrated? No- Coffee and donuts.
  • Coffee and donuts after the Eucharist. Chocolate glazed to be exact. (Dunkin Donuts still made donuts)
  • “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry
  • Obviously not the donut that fed our hunger, but the experience of community- that was the Bread of Life.
  • Not the building but the people.
  • Sense of community fed the hunger of an eight year old and his parents
  • Lesson: environment and liturgy was welcoming and accessible to everyone- especially families with children
  • Coffee hour not just a pleasant afterthought but a way to build community.
  • Side note- Sr Patricia is now Rev. Patricia- I guess she heard about the Philadelphia 11 as well… she ended up being ordained for the UCC Church and recently served at the Village Church in Nahant.

Sometimes the Bread of Life involves a Pizza:

 

  • Campus Minister at Hartwick College and the State University of NY in Oneonta.
  • Charged to start a College Mass at the downtown church. Clergy shortage meant that a Chaplain could no longer be assigned to serve only on campus.
  • Challenge:

Bring together students from a Private College with those from State College.

  • Week One: posters, music, homily.  Walk out to begin- what do you think I found?  Five people at church- 2 college students and 3 friends. Discouraging.
  • What are we doing wrong? How do you get college students to go church?
  • Pizza!  Started with two pizzas in the back of the church- by the end of the second semester there were over 500 college students coming Sunday night.
  • Realized we had to do more than expect people to come. Meet them half way.
  1. Provide opportunities for community
  2. Adjust the time of the service to fit the students’ schedules.
  3. Great Music: Pipe organ (traditional hymns) and contemporary music (piano, keyboards, drums, guitar).
  4. Preaching: relevant to the community. Shared the pulpit with my colleague Susan who was the other campus minister. The two of us offered different perspectives on the readings and student life.
  • Students who normally did not associate with each other were united around a common table.   While the pizza helped, it was their experience of community that kept them coming back. They learned what it meant to share the Bread of Life.

 

Final example: Sometimes the Bread of Life involves Dancing

 

  • About a year ago, Loren and I attended St Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.
  • Anytime the words Episcopal Church and San Francisco are the same sentence- watch out!
  • Church building built for contemporary celebration of the Eucharist.
  • Warmly welcomed
  • Liturgy of the Word- choir seating. Incense and bells and colorful vestments. Prayer of the people- community shared personally their joys and concerns. One man mentioned his recent heart attack and his fear of even leaving the house to be there that morning- He was relying on the community to pray for him and with him.
  • Community invited to gather around the altar. Didn’t walk. We danced. The entire community locked arms and encircled the altar. As one body, we danced around the table preparing for Eucharist. You should have seen Loren’s face- looked a little like Kevin Driscoll’s face right now as I tell this story.
  • Dancing around an altar is certainly not for everyone, but this community prayed with their entire body: Full, active, conscious participation.
  • Sent a follow-up thank you note- thanking Loren and I for making the Eucharist with them. “Making the Eucharist” not thank you for coming- thank you for making the Eucharist. Not just the action of the priest but the entire community.

Many more- but thought I would share these three. You have your own. We bring these experiences to the Eucharist we celebrate this morning. For me, these experiences of prayer has shaped my understanding of the Eucharist and in turn my understanding of today’s scripture.

The Bread of Life found in the  Eucharist we celebrate today

It is Christ who has called us together this morning. Sometimes hard to believe- especially if it’s a fight at home just to get out the door.  Our hunger  is satisfied in community.

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.

Not the building but the people. Whether we gather in a gym or in this historic church- sense of community that is most important. Our deepest hungers are met because the Jesus, the Bread of Life is present in this community. That’s why its so important that we come together each week. Our deepest hungers are met and we are strengthened for the week to follow. We encounter Christ in the Word proclaimed. See the lector- I see Christ. If you listen closely, the Spirit of Christ will speak to you. A word in scripture, perhaps a sermon or the words to a song we sing at church.

Working with college students was a helpful reminder that flexibility and diversity in the liturgy is important. For some, they were moved by a traditional hymn on the organ- for others it was a contemporary liturgical song with keyboard and drums. Both can lead to deeper belief. When we break open God’s Word- we come to believe. And when we believe, we no longer thirst.

Whoever believes in me will never be thirst.

  • Christ in the bread and wine we share
  • St Gregory- I was thanked for helping “make” the Eucharist.

This morning, we have come not just to receive the Eucharist but to make the Eucharist as well.  How do we do that?

Offertory- We offer our joys and sorrows along with the bread, wine and monetary gifs. Offer your struggles- loneliness, sometimes your children disappoint you, challenges at work or with a relationship, illness, loss of a loved one. Offer our joys- a new relationship, new job, recovery from cancer, gratitude for just being able to be here this morning. Not just bread and wine, but it is our life that is placed on the altar. We pray over it- Martha calls upon the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine, and all of us into the Body and Blood of Christ. Together, we make the Eucharist.

The bread is broken, the wine is poured.

We come forward: “The Body of Christ, The Bread of Heaven” The Gospel rings in our ears:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever;

and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. 

Summary:

Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life. We come to know the Bread of Life in the gathered community, in the Word sung and proclaimed, and in the bread and wine we share. Through our celebration of the Eucharist week after week, year after year, we begin to understand today’s scripture. While we still might not be able to fully understand what it means to say “If you eat this bread you will live forever” we get a glimpse of this reality each time we break the bread. Sometimes it takes a donut, sometimes a pizza and sometimes dancing. But whatever it takes, know that Christ has called you here this morning and invites you to this table so you may experience fullness of life.

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Aug 062012
 

Scripture Meditation for Sunday August 5, 2012

As we consider what Jesus meant by the words “I am the bread of life”, let us hear a story hunger in our world, which comes from Zimbabwe:

 “So many children, 250 or so … the small children running toward the feeding place, excitement and laughter bursting from their small bodies.  It seems children always do things in fast motion, at least when they are well fed. I suspect with these children, there have been times when they did not move so fast. You can see hints of it in their minuscule frames, pencil stick arms and legs, and knees that protrude like some large bulging knot – grapefruit knees, except there was no succulence of citrus here, only the emaciated frames of children who rarely get enough to eat. Yet, the deficiency of their physicality seemed not to touch their souls, for their demeanor, their zeal for this moment, their joy in this one second of their being, expresses the reality of life … right now- life, not in some maybe-one-day existence, but in the now.

The older youth do not move so fast, but instead, flow with the reserved skepticism of standing in too many long lines with shouting and pushing children who had not worn pain for so long and so close to their hearts. They eyed the camera shyly, sometimes allowing the quick flash of a smile to be coaxed from their restrained exterior.

Soon all are gathered before the steaming pot of porridge, its creamy surface undulating with the constant explosion of bubbles birthed by the burning wood pushed beneath its black iron bottom. The smell of the porridge and the burning wood gives up a rich aroma that only seems to further animate the hungry children. The cooks and teachers quickly gather the wide bowls and begin placing them in the small hands as child after child slowly moves toward the pot.

One of the strangers, a blond-haired man dips a metal cup into the steaming mass and pours the thick mixture of grain, salt, and sugar into bowl after bowl. These same hands that used to cling shakily to a bottle, its contents used to douse his own pain, now extend warm cups containing that which would end the pain of empty stomachs. It is the feeding of a multitude, a miracle where nothing has existed before but now, out of love, out of the presence of Christ, and out of a few bags of meal, hungry and forgotten children eat.

As each child files past, as each moves into the blond man’s space, there is a smile, a greeting, a word of hope. As each steps into his presence, his love flows out to them, enveloping them, washing over them, telling them that they are not alone. And in return, their brightness and ability to find joy even in the midst of real need astounds him, humbles him, feeds him.

Before the line of young lives has ended their promenade, the pot is emptied. It seems to happen too quickly, another slash of anguish into a continuum of suffering, another brutal punctuation underlying a reality of constant deprivation. It seems as if destiny itself is speaking, “Sorry kid, nothing more for you except more hunger, more pain, and the absolute assurance that all you will ever receive in abundance is lack.”

The line stops moving.  The teenagers in the rear slowly press into those in the front who now stand still, hungrily eying the barren void of the depleted pot. No words spoken. No sound made, but on their faces the look of the beaten, a giving over to another defeat, another small point of pain into a lifetime of despair.

The blond-haired man stands before the gaping chasm of the empty pot with the small group of hungry faces before him. The empty cup dangles from his fingers and he shares the same look of despair as the children … but only for a moment, for he and his companions quickly move to their van parked a few meters away. Delving into its interior, they hurriedly produce crackers and cookies and fruit. As they begin passing the food out to the hungry children, the cooks produce a large container of a thick nutritional drink.

Immediately, the young people are wrestling with the wrappers and sampling new treats. In their faces, tentative smiles are soon followed by laughter and joy and exuberant exclamation. The blond-haired man looks on, touched deeply by this connection, this movement of life that could have so easily become just another story of death. “

If we can take even small steps in trusting even a portion of our resources to God’s work of feeding those who hunger, we will be fed with the wonder of how God is able to bring that about.  Any who have been involved with feeding the hungry know that witnessing such miracles moves one from feeling poor to feeling rich, without one’s financial position changing in the least.  Could it be then that one’s position on the economic spectrum isn’t more a matter of perception than anything else. 

In our gospel for today we hear Jesus having this exchange with the crowd who has witnessed the feeding of the 5000:

Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

 In Jesus, God’s power to heal a hungering world is on full display.  Jesus fed the hungry not by giving them individual gifts, but rather by bringing people together to wrestle with the tough questions about why some have enough and others do not.  Jesus knew that the place of banquet was in the place of hunger, the space of brokenness, in the lives of those whose hearts are torn apart, in those who came to a barren field to hear a word of hope. Jesus shows that the place of brokenness is also the place of the banquet, and the place where all are called to meet the Christ.  In that place, all together- every one of us- is fed.

In his name and for his sake.  Amen+

 

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 Sunday, August 4 – A Meditation  Posted by on Mon, 6-Aug-12 Sermons Comments Off on Sunday, August 4 – A Meditation
Aug 012012
 

OK, all you other bed racers out there! St. Paul’s is coming.  And we’re coming with a celebration of Jesus’s half-birthday! So, do not be afraid! Just remember this:

At the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth. (Philippians 2:10 NRSV)

And, prepare to be pwned (in a friendly way of course)!

 

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 Bed Race Prep Going Well  Posted by on Wed, 1-Aug-12 News Comments Off on Bed Race Prep Going Well