Oct 282013

To ease my reception into the Episcopal Church I went to Boston to the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul’s on 5 October 2013 I had a team of Helpers. The rector Martha + Hubbard of Saint Paul’s Church in Newburyport, MA gave me the Rev. Chris YAW’s book: JESUS WAS AN EPISCOPALIAN, a delightful introduction to my new religion. A set of questions, designed by St. Paul’s Senior Warden Priscilla BELLAIRS, aided me in consuming and digesting the YAW book. And Assistant SPC (St. Paul’s Church, NBPT, MA) rector Ollie JONES boosted me on to the internet.

One NEW thing that I learned from the first five chapters which dealt with: DO, TRANSITION, THINK, WELCOME, & ACCEPT was: VIA MEDIA (Latin for the Middle Way mentioned on page 58). This referred to the method used successfully by the English Queen Elizabeth I daughter of King Henry the VIII. She was a steady hand at the rudder of the Church of England; other family members were unable to help. QE I steered the Church of England down the middle between Catholics and Protestants during her 45 year reign ending bickering and bloodshed to the enrichment of both Protestants and Catholics.

One SURPRISING item I found was that 1,000,000,000 people in the world cannot read or write. They are illiterate. Another stunning statistic revealed that 40,000 children die every single day due to poverty. Illiteracy, disease and malnutrition reinforced by poverty are the enemies of the human race. Today many churches campaign against these evils and some of them work together.

Something that I wished were BETTER EXPLAINED is that 70% of Episcopalians (36) are converts. How come?

DISAGREEMENT (37) I felt about the lack of discussion of the Triune Deity and the Mother of God (BVM).

WELCOME was my favorite guiding question. Obviously it is an important Episcopal element. And I have heard from Newburyport, Boston, New York and Washington, D. C. Locally Martha+, Ollie, Priscilla, Bob and Clare and others whose names are still new to me, except for the Queen Joyce. (Is she also a steady hand on the rudder?)
In Boston two bishops named HARRIS: Gayle, the Presiding Preacher and fan of the poet Maya Angelou, and Barbara the Pioneer who assisted in our (James Andrew COISH and Christine Ann McLAUGHLIN ~ Confirmation and Richard Thomas GREEN ~ Reception) Worship. In New York, Elaine, a Cradle Episcopalian, a pal of my RC brother Peter’s, warned me about internet overload at THE website www.episcopalchurch.org. And she gave me a card picturing the National Cathedral in Washington, D. C. I do feel WELCOME!

Nothing but nets interested me as a project at first but after the Christosal Foundation board meeting I realized that this project was well-established and a better prospect.

Time to fold my tent now. The next JWAE part will include: THANK, SHAPE, WORD, MAP & ROOT.

Here is a quotation I liked: “It is the poetry of faith, not its various dogma, that persuades us Episcopalians. The elegance of a doctrine…the music of a holy name…the cry of an eagle in the chant of a psalm…these things teach us, though most of them cannot be taught.”

Phyllis TICKLE (55)

131028 Tom PiLGRiM Green ~ JWAE~rtg

 EPISCOPAL RECEPTION  Posted by on Mon, 28-Oct-13 News Comments Off on EPISCOPAL RECEPTION
Oct 272013

This is Stewardship Ingathering Sunday and I like the fact that we go to one service for this Sunday because it allows us to look around and see each other – no 8 am or 10:15 groups – just one congregation celebrating what God is doing for us and through us as people of faith in this place.  Often when we talk about Christian stewardship we speak in terms of  “giving back to God” through pledging, but someone once gave me a phrase I now prefer – pledging as “giving forward to God”.   I really resonated with that.  The traditional language of giving back to God is theologically sound – it is very much in line with the biblical imperatives to return to God a goodly portion of what God has provided for us.  But the phrase giving forward to God  seems more dynamic to me.  In my mind it releases the covenant relationship between God and us as stewards from the language and images of the lender and debtor relationship – as if God were some divine banker to whom we owe regular payments.  When we break out of those sorts of ways of talking about our stewardship covenant with God, the horizon opens up for us.   If we are giving forward to God, we are partners in an adventure into the future.  The portion of ourselves and our livelihood that we give is not to be locked in a vault somewhere, but is to flow out into a world that is thirsting for it.

In our psalm this morning, we are told:

Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.  As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. (Psalm 84:5-6)

This psalm makes allusions to the pilgrimage route that faithful Jews of that day took to Jerusalem.  The Valley of Baca was a place that pilgrims had to pass through on the final leg of their pilgrimage.  It was a dry and barren place, with long stretches of arid landscape stretching between wells.  Thirst, and the discomfort and danger that come with thirst, were common to travelers through the Valley of  Baca.  There is a story that some pilgrims who passed along this way toke it upon themselves to dig little trenches to catch what little rain came in the wet season, so that others coming after them would find it a place of springs and pools.  It took time and effort to hack away even a little of the sun baked, rock hard soil.  But those travelers took the time and risk of working in that arid landscape for the sake of those coming after them.

What an image of giving forward to God.  I wonder what inspired those pilgrims in their self sacrifice for others who would come after them? I thought about that this week as Marco and I spent a few days in Poughkeepsie packing up my parents belongings from the house they built and have lived in for 52 years.  They recently relocated to a Sr. residence nearby and are settling in well.  I would not trade for anything the time I have spent at their house these last 2 weeks, and I am grateful to you all for bearing with me as I have tended to this transition.  As Marco and I sifted through photos, papers, and lots of other belongings at their house, it was a bit like an archeological dig with regard to the life they had built there over all those many years.  We laughed, we cried and I remembered things I had not thought of in years.  And I caught sight of my parents in a new way.  As I sifted, I discovered evidence of choices and some sacrifices they had made in order to give my sister and me every advantage for our future.  And as I look at where both my sister and I are in our lives right now I see the connection to those choices and sacrifices my parents made all those years ago.  My parents were not perfect and our family life not idyllic, but, they gave forward to our future and we have thrived.  They dug trenches in some desert places, so that we would find them to be places of springs filled with pools of early rain.

I wonder how the same has been true in your life?  Who has given forward on your behalf?  What difference has it made?  Maybe it was or is your parents. Maybe a good friend, or a teacher.  I hope that in some way shape or form it has also been the Church, and specifically this parish of St. Paul’s.  If we look at our tree of parish life we see that it has been deeply rooted for 300+ years and that many who went before us have fed and tended it well so that it would be strong for us in our day.  And so it is  – thanks be to God!

All of this reminds me of the wonderful book titled Pay It Forward  by Catherine Ryan Hyde, made into a move back in  the year 2000. The main character in the story is 11 year old Trevor McKinney.  He is what used to be referred to as a “latch key kid” who often found himself on his own after school and well into the evening. So when his 7th grade social studies teacher put out an extra credit challenge to the class to, “Think of a project that can change the world and then put it into action,” Trevor embraced the assignment whole heartedly.  Trevor explained the project he imagined to his class and his teacher saying, “You do a favor that really helps someone and then tell that person not to pay you back, but to pay it forward to three other people, who then tell those three people the same thing, and it gets big really fast.” As his teacher notes, Trevor’s project is an extreme act of faith in the goodness of people.  At age 11 Trevor does not realize how his project could be impacted by the complexities of human nature and fee will run riot of the people who try to apply it.

Trevor launches out on the project with great hope. His first favor is done for a homeless man.  While his mom is working a double shift, Trevor brings the man home, feeds him a dinner of sugar pops and allows him to sleep in the back of the family’s broken down pick-up truck parked in their garage.  Several days later the man comes back to fix the engine on the truck as a way to pay it forward.  This man cleans up his act enough to get a job and a cheap motel room.  But in just several weeks he is back to using drugs.  When Trevor finds out he is crushed and assumes this first try is a failure.

But he does not give up.  Trevor moves on with plans to do big favors for his social studies teacher, his mother and his friend Adam.  I won’t ruin the film or book for you if you haven’t seen them.  Suffice it to say that Trevor’s idea of pay it forward gets loose and begins the chain reaction Trevor had hoped for, though he knows nothing about it.  And those who are drawn into it try to apply it the best they can. Even though the idea gets tangled up with human imperfection it begins to have a big impact in people’s lives.

At the climax point in the story Trevor asks his teacher to do a specific thing as a way of paying forward the good that Trevor has done for him. His teacher responds, “I will pay it forward, but I can’t do what you ask – it’s just too hard.”  Trevor responds, “But that is why this is the one, it is supposed to be something hard.”

Did those pilgrims to Jerusalem, in the valley of Baca take on the difficult task of chipping away at the hard earth to create channels for living water because they were paying it forward  – passing on an immense kindness experienced in their lives previously?  I like to think so.  I like to think that is what we are doing as we pledge of our resources to God’s work through St. Paul’s. I invite you on this Ingathering Sunday to offer your pledge and see what God is able to do with it!  As you can imagine, each year our church expenses increase, so our pledging needs to increase as well – please give as generously as you are able.  As Trevor said, “that is how you know this is the one, it is supposed to be something hard” So let’s all stretch in our giving!  We can do this together. Christ Jesus has shown us the way.  Just look what happened when he paid it forward – Waters of new life poured down!

In his name and for his sake.  Amen+

 Sermon for Sunday, October 27 – The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Sun, 27-Oct-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, October 27 – The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
Oct 252013

Today I am Tom Pilgrim. Before that I was Tom Nomad, although I did not realize it until I learned that a pilgrim had a destination. Now I have found a place where I can be nourished spiritually and communicate with others and perhaps even help some in a small way. So, I have found a place where I can be comfortable but not too comfortable because growth can be and often is an uncomfortable place where change requires modifying old habits to fit with the new. I think I need a nap after all of this thinking and squirming. After revisiting the ten plagues in just one session, coming to realize that I was a nomad, a designated drifter and am now evolving into a pilgrim, a person with a mission, with a destination which provides me with a community, a team with a common goal and a structure within which I, we work together. Cush la mochree (or Oy Vey) ~ it’s time, time now, time for a nap.Photo  [/PiLGRiM Glass image]caption]

 PiLGRiM Stained Glass image 131022~rtg  Posted by on Fri, 25-Oct-13 News Comments Off on PiLGRiM Stained Glass image 131022~rtg
Oct 252013

Some weeks the preacher is hard pressed to find the time among all the other tasks of parish ministry to write a sermon.  This week was one of those for me.  Thankfully, I have been at this for a good number of years, so I looked back to other sermons I have given on this morning’s readings.  I found there a sermon I gave on this Sunday in 1995.  It seemed to me that it had something important still to speak and so I am sharing it with you this morning.  Here is what I wrote in response to these readings in 1995:

This morning Jesus hands us the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.  In the past I have identified with these parables from the standpoint of the sheep or the coin, being lost and then being found by God’s incredible grace.  But this week I have come to identify with these parables from a different angle.  This week I had the experience of being the searcher – the experience of dropping everything else in order to search for something very dear to me that was lost; my cat, Jasper.  He disappeared Wednesday night and unfortunately our search for him ended on Thursday morning when we found his lifeless body on the side of our road near the entrance to our driveway.  He had been hit by a car.  Marco and I have been so privileged to care for him here in this world and I do believe that there is much rejoicing in heaven as God and the angels take over full car for him there.  Yet it is a time of sadness here for us, as we grieve the loss of his furry-purry presence with us.

There is always risk for a preacher to share this personally about his or her life in a sermon – risk that the focus will be too much on the preacher and not enough on the gospel.  I’m taking that risk this morning because through this experience of loss I have been reminded of some important things about God that are also presented to us in the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin. My hope is that in talking about my own experience this week and what it has shown me about the nature of our God, you will find point of resonance in your own life and we will see together how the Gospel weaves itself through even our most difficult moments.

The first thing that came into focus for me this week as I dealt with the loss of Jasper is the truth that though God is all powerful and all knowing, Go’s search for us when we have strayed – as the Israelites did in the OT less this am – God’s search for us is not a simple mechanical process with a given outcome. Into the midst of my Thursday morning panic and anguish over Jasper’s unknown whereabouts, something seemed to whisper in my ear, “this is how God feels in the search for all who are lost or have strayed.”  That took me aback.  I had never really thought about how God feels before.  Of course in our Gospel parables the shepherd and the woman are images of God, searching for the lost and isolated among God’s children.  But I had never given much thought to how that searching God felt, probably because I knew how the parables come out; with a find and much rejoicing.  I am sure that my Thursday morning anguish, bound as it was by time and space, is quite different from God’s experience in eternity.  But maybe the difference has more to do with scope than with quality.  After all we are made in the image of our creator God.  So though our God has the big picture of eternity that we do not have and thought our God knows for a fact what we hold by faith – that Christ Jesus has won the victory – still I believe our great an almighty God experiences something like my anguish as he seeks out the places we stray to.  After all, the outcome of the search is not just up to God it is also up to us- we have to be willing to be found.

That brings me to my second learning. As we searched for Jasper I was aware of the fact that I was not in control.  There is part of me that wishes I could have found a way to keep my cat from being killed. But when I follow that thinking through to the end, I realize that to rule out his being killed by anything other than natural causes would have meant severely limiting his freedom.  For one thing I would have had to keep him indoors, and while that is a find life for some felines, not so for Jasper – he loved the outdoors.  To keep him inside all the time would have made him quite miserable.  No, better that he was fee to express his full catness. I strongly believe that the same is true of God’s approach to us. God has given us our free will because God knows that the only way for us to be who we are made to be is through that free will.  God does not want the love of a caged creature. What god rejoices in is love freely expressed from a creature that has the power to express that love in unique and creative ways.

All of this leads to the last piece of clarity that I was gifted with in the course of this painful week. What came into focus finally was that God’s search for us is not about ownership, but about relationship.  As I searched for my missing kitty, I realized I wasn’t searching out of some sense of wanting to get back something of economic value. I was searching because I wanted to be with another being whose welfare mattered to me and whose presence in my life was a comfort and a joy.  My search was not about ownership, it was about relationship. And that is the deep down truth of the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin – the truth that the value that the world places on people is not even a consideration with God. God seeks each one of us because God wants to be with each one of us. To God, our value is inherent, not determined by the measures the world uses.  That is why God as the shepherd is willing to leave the 99 in order to go after the one lost sheep. And why God as the woman din not rejoice until she had all 10 coins.  Our Eucharistic Prayer A in our prayer book puts it well: Holy and Gracious Father: In your infinite love You made us for yourself.” God does not seek us out in order to have power and control over us. God already has that, but God does not choose to meet us on those terms – despite some rumors we might have heard to the contrary.  And God does not come after us to demand that we praise him and give our homage – though God could do that too.  Rather the God we meet in Christ seeks us out simply to be in relationship with us. God, the true lover of souls, will never force us into that relationship. God wants our love feely give.  That doesn’t mean that God will simply passively sit by and wait for us to return to him.  As our parables this morning point out and as our experience may also show, ours is a seeker God, who will do wilder things than we can imagine to get our attention and woo us back. That is what is known as God’s amazing grace and mercy.  That is what the author of First Timothy was talking about in this morning’s second less.  And that grace and mercy comes to each of us in just the right ways and at just the right times.  Repentance happens when in our wandering ways we recognize that grace, reach out for its hand, and let it lead us back – time and again- into relationship with the Love that made us for love.

In 1986 grace padded into my life in the form of a little black kitten, who I named Jasper.  And oh what a gift he was in my life.  His death this week has shaken and saddened me. And like all death I can’t fully understand it.  Yet the grace of our shared time together goes on, because through his death the love of our seeker God has come into clearer focus for me.  Though that does not stop the pain it is nonetheless a blessing – a blessing that tells me that if I can love like that, how much more our seeker God loves each of us.  Amen+

 Sermon for Sunday September 15, 2013 The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Fri, 25-Oct-13 News Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday September 15, 2013 The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Oct 202013

My first session in Saint Paul’s Adult Forum dealt with the 10 plagues. On my first full consideration hemmed in by intelligent commentary I still wondered what God was up to. I mean it was like the Pharaoh brought a knife to a gun fight. I couldn’t imagine the omnipotent Being dealing with a mere human would allow him to hold out. But with gentle kneading of the narrative by our leader and the raising of questions and the answering of them by my classmates led me gradually to the idea of free will that we humans have. Even a horse can make up its own mind whether to wade in and drink from a stream or not. And all those plagues were dreadful and are still dreadful.

God is there to help but we must want it. And it seems quite likely that any one of us can, on a given day, choose to swim upstream or at least try to, slipping back and thinking it can be done without anyone’s help, thank you very much. The first nine plagues, horrible as they were, did not deter that stubborn Pharaoh of Egypt from bending to the Will of God.

This narrative was likened to the plight of Job, an idea I first admired, then pondered, and then wondered why I hadn’t thought of it. But I soon realized this was a rusty trail and a distraction; that, instead such a comparison enabled me to regard this situation in a different and more helpful light. So, God upped the ante with the widespread death of all Egyptian Firstborn.

That did it! Moses and his crowd were hustled out of the land of their bondage post haste. From that perspective it shows how far God is willing to go, in a given situation before He lowers the boom. And since I am not a pharaoh I most likely will not get that many chances in a given case. Besides, that story is there for me to listen to, read, and learn, with a little bit or a lot of help. Come to think of it, if I were to consider negative experiences in my life and how I have dealt with them, maybe I could be ~ or I am ~ a pharaoh or even a Job. Have I not resisted celestial prodding in the past? Do I sometimes resist drinking from the stream to which I have been led? “Hoo Hah,” my Uncle McDermott used to say as he came to a screeching halt at an abyss in his life, and because he did not go over the cliff he could tell me about it later. Hoo H….

Not to ask for forgiveness, but just a little understanding about where I came from. I came from a place where our bible consisted of the four gospels. Four books from the library of bible where the full count is 70 books, give or take. My point is that I was spiritually starved even despite a Scholastic education and, didn’t know it. I thought I was a pilgrim but really was a nomad because I had no destination. Maybe I thought I was seeking the Holy Grail, but I discovered that Harrison Ford found it in RAIDERS of the LOST ARK. Hoo…. No more nomad now! After the double barrel Bishops’ (Two bishops named Harris, Gayle and Barbara who in 1989 was consecrated the first female bishop in the world for the Anglican Communion)Reception at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in Boston in early October this year. I am now a member of the Saint Paul’s Church in Newburyport, MA 300 years old two years ago.

 PLAGUES ~ Tom PiLGRiM 20 October 2013  Posted by on Sun, 20-Oct-13 News Comments Off on PLAGUES ~ Tom PiLGRiM 20 October 2013
Oct 202013

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our creator and our lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

 We’re already on the fourth Sunday of our congregation’s annual pledge drive. The overall theme of our pledge drive – the tree, the trunk, the branches, comes straight from the teaching of Jesus: he’s the vine and we’re the branches, we’re all bound together.

We started our pledge drive at the end of September by welcoming and blessing the animals that live with us. Then, on the first Sunday of October we celebrated our shared work of global outreach, of developing relationships with people around the world, and especially in El Salvador. Do you remember Sam Gould coming and talking from up here about digging ditches in El Salvador years ago, and not having very many conversations? He said he talked to seven Salvadorans, and three of them were passport control people at the airport. I know you remember Stephen and Ben talking in the forum about how they did get to know a lot of people, and develop real relationships with them. Sam walked with them on that path. Any of us who have been on a so-called “mission trip” have heard the question “what did you do?” But we know the interesting questions: “who did you meet?” “who did you get to know?” “what did you learn about how strong this tree of life in Christ really is?” It’s good for all of us that Sam’s early, lonely, experience of digging some meaningless ditch didn’t make him lose sight of the tree of life and lose heart.

Last week we celebrated the ways we work locally with people across the street and across town. Terry reminded us about all the ways we continually learn to open our hearts to be shaped by one another and to be the face of Jesus for each other. In the name of Jesus we’ve learned to really see each other and know each other. We’re privileged to be walking together past some of the old distinctions, you know the ones I mean: straight and gay, female and male, Gentile and Greek, slave and free.

Still, much of that journey still lies ahead. It remains true that congregations are the most race- and class- segregated institutions in the United States, and our congregation is no exception. But the good news is that we know how to walk together: we’re bound together in strength and courage as branches of one tree. We have each others’ strength and God’s faith in us to keep taking risks, keep getting past the old distinctions, and keep opening ourselves to people we don’t yet know.

This week we’re celebrating the work of our congregation in the areas of formation, education, and worship. We’re rejoicing at our strong Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program, and our forums. We’re thanking God for all the ways we support one another in shaping our hearts.

Our kids and their mentors in church school have been kind enough to let me participate in their work once in a while.

In our first reading, Jacob wrestled with God all night. He named the place where they wrestled Peniel. Now most names in the Hebrew Bible are puns, and so is this one. El is one of the names of God, and pene is the word for face. So that place he wrestled he named “the face of God.”

What I see in this congregation are safe places for children and adults to wrestle with the mystery of God. Hopefully our wrestling with God will be a little more gentle than Jacob’s: it wouldn’t be good for any of our kiddos to get dislocated hips. Even so, this place too is properly called Peniel. I see people of various ages, maturity, and temperament learning to know, love, and care for each other and for God.

Speaking personally, I am grateful to everybody here for getting to know, love, and care for me. Again, it’s all about the tree and the branches. Together we’re doing the work of strengthening that great tree of life, and letting it strengthen us. We do that by knowing each other deeply: by seeing the face of Jesus and the glory of God reflected in each others’ faces.

Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke 18:1-8 NRSV

Jesus spoke about our “need to pray always and not lose heart.” To do that we need to know God and we need genuine human community: we need to know each other. That’s not easy.

What’s this “losing heart” all about, anyway? The Gospel word is εκκακειν. (engkakein) It’s sometimes translated “becoming exhausted” or “becoming dispirited.” But to a Greek speaker, κακος (kakos) means bad. It means reprehensible, harmful, so εκκακειν sounds like “embaddened.” (Is that a word? It should be.) When Jesus talks about losing heart, he doesn’t just mean becoming passive, he means more than that. Losing heart means becoming sullen, disconnected from the tree of life and blind to the face of Jesus in our neighbor.

I spent time with my dad this past week, and he told stories from my childhood when he was a consul – a diplomat – in the Middle East. One of these stories:  it was sometime in the mid 1950s, and our family – dad, mom, and a couple of little kids – had just arrived for dad’s posting in Istanbul, Turkey. A representative of the Istanbul city government proudly took us around to show off how modern and progressive Constantine’s ancient city had become.

One stop was the city’s electric generating plant. It was a noisy and smelly place; I suppose they used diesel engines. On one wall were some huge old-school copper knife switches. Our guide reached up, grabbed the handle of one of them, pulled it down … zzzt … and said, “you see? Now one third of Istanbul is without power”  Now there was a, literally, power-drunk government functionary, like the judge from Jesus’s parable. I don’t know whether or not he feared God, but he intentionally broke his connection to the people he supposedly served. He set out to show off how wonderfully modern his city had become. But instead he proved that he had the power to cut himself off from his community.

There’s another character in Jesus’s parable: the widow. Of course, in the patriarchal world of antiquity, a widow was a non-person. She lacked influence or status. She was about as meaningful to the judge as the people of Istanbul were to that guy with the knife switch – that is to say, not at all meaningful. The only thing she had to offer to the lazy, embaddened, judge was her relationship. She didn’t give up. She stayed in his face until he saw her for who she really was and then did his job. I wonder, where did she get her courage? Did she draw courage from seeing God’s glory reflected in his face?

Who are you in this story? Who am I? Are we the lazy power-mad judges who lose heart and break our connections to each other and to God’s holy tree just to show off? Sure, we are, sometimes, of course. Any boy, or former boy, among us is tempted to see what will happen if we push that big red “off” switch.

But there’s hope for us even in our most embaddened times. We’re surrounded by a whole bunch of people like that widow, who don’t give up on us, and keep trying to build holy community with us, and to remind us that we are all part of the same tree of life. We do that for each other.

Our Catechesis and forum work here at St. Paul’s are ways we practice caring for each other the way the widow cared for the judge.  Of course, our shared global and local outreach work are also ways we practice that. So is the upcoming church fair, where we work – work hard! – side-by-side to welcome people from all over our community.

Our pledge drive is finishing up next Sunday. We’ll celebrate the strength of our community by getting us all together at single service at 9 oclock and gathering up our pledges. Each of us has, like that man in Istanbul, our hand on a switch. Each of us can choose to turn off our own switch or turn it on. We can choose to withhold our gifts or to be generous with them.

But none of us is like that man, because he didn’t care and we do. We know the power flows both ways. We know when we turn on our own switch, when we give our time, our skills, our money, and our prayers, we celebrate and build up our own connections to each other and to the tree of life.

Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, we know you draw us into community with you and each other, and forever keep us from losing heart. You know each of us has the power to break our own connection to your community. Open our hearts to your faith in us, and our faith in one another. Restore and strengthen our connections to each other and to you, we pray, all for the sake of your holy + tree of life. Amen

 Community, Connection, Power – sermon for Oct 20, 2013  Posted by on Sun, 20-Oct-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Community, Connection, Power – sermon for Oct 20, 2013
Oct 172013

 Sermon for Sunday, October 13 The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Thu, 17-Oct-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, October 13 The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
Oct 092013

 Sermon for Sunday October 6, 2013 – The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Wed, 9-Oct-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday October 6, 2013 – The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Oct 022013


A few years ago there was a story of two churches making the rounds on the internet.  The churches were Our Lady of Martyrs Catholic Church, and Beulah Cumberland Presbyterian Church.  The story goes that these two churches were neighbors serving the same, small southern American town, and that they got into a bit of a discussion by way of their church signs.  Each had a sign out front with a section that allowed them to post changing messages for passersby to read.

The discussion began when Our Lady of Martyrs posted the message, “All dogs go to heaven”.  Apparently this did not sit well theologically with the brethren at Beulah for they responded on their sign with the message, “Only humans go to heaven – read the Bible”.  The next week Our Lady’s sign read, “God loves all his creations, dogs included”. That prompted Beulah to post, “Dogs do not have souls, this is not open for debate”.  Of course rather than squelching debate that just cranked it up and this is the volley of messages that ensued:

Our Lady: “Catholic dogs go to heaven – Presbyterian dogs can talk to their pastor

Beulah: “Converting to Catholicism does not magically grant your dog a soul.”

Our Lady: “Free dog souls with conversion”

Beulah: “Dogs are animals; there aren’t any rocks in heaven either”

Our Lady: “All rocks go to heaven”


It turns out that this was a fabricated sign war that someone dreamed up for the amusement of the internet audience.  But it does use humor to raise some important questions about our human relationship with the earth and the other creatures that inhabit it with us, and our sense of God’s relationship with all of creation.

If we listen closely to our reading from the book of Genesis this morning we will note after the flood, God is renewing the divine covenant with not just the humans who have come through the waters, but also with the animals and the earth itself.  This should help us with the hubris of thinking that we can decide what categories of creation are fit for God’s eternal realm!

And anyone who has been greeted by the purr of a cat or the wag of a dog at the end of a long day, or anyone who has a close relationship to any non-human creature will know that God’s heavenly realm is not something we need to wait until after death to experience.  Unlike humans most animals are not burdened with worry about the future, or with regret about the past.  Most of our animal partners have a capacity to be in the present moment in a way that most of us have to seriously practice to achieve even a hint of.  So when we are burdened with future or past, their presence can be balm to our hearts, minds and souls.  In those moments if we are open to their ministrations to us, they preach the Gospel to us. They embody Jesus words, ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ An animal’s presence can change our focus, can draw us in, and can lead us back to the heaven of the presence moment.

But I am not telling you anything you do not already know! I am so pleased that you have brought you dear animal partners or mementos of them with you to share in God’s blessings in this place today.  And if you brought your pet rock, that is just fine too.  In Memory of St. Francis of Assisi and in Christ’s name. Amen+

 Sermon for Sunday, September 29 – The Blessing of the Animals  Posted by on Wed, 2-Oct-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, September 29 – The Blessing of the Animals