Moral Courage in Acts

Wait! Stop! Hold the presses!

That first reading for Sunday (Acts 10: 44f.) from the Acts of the Apostles was a groundbreaking moment in God’s plan of salvation in the world. It was a pivotal moment in the early Church and it is a pivotal moment in the Bible. It was not so simple and so innocuous that the Holy Spirit fell on some people while Peter was speaking. Something far more dynamic was taking place. Something that had big implications for the future of the Church and your place in it.

Humans are discerning beings. And one of the things that they discern the most are the things that separate one from another. If you were to read the Bible from a certain point of view, it is the history of racism. That racism that plagues our modern-day history, plagued them back then also. Biblically, racism is a problem much larger than the racism of African American and Caucasian relationships that are the bane of our cities. It was expected that Samaritans and Jews had ample cause to hate one another; Joshua is given a mandate to destroy the Hittites, Amalekites, the Perizzites; the establishment of the Davidic line features ongoing warfare with the Philistines. Jews and Gentiles did not get along, especially when it was that the Gentiles were of the sort that were the conquerors.

At prayer one day, Peter was inspired to be obedient to the request of the people who were knocking at the door. Those people were representatives of a fellow named Cornelius. Cornelius was a Roman Centurion. While it was true that he was in the category of “God fearer” which was a name given to one who respected the God of the Jews and practiced their religion insofar as he was able, he was a Gentile, nonetheless. He was a person of authority. It would have been intimidating for Peter to answer the door and to find Roman soldiers knocking and insisting that he come with them. And come with them voluntarily. It is roughly analogous to the State Troopers knocking at your door and asking you to come along for a conversation. Except, of course, as a citizen of this Commonwealth and of these United States, you have far more rights and privileges than Peter did. Since Peter had been already arrested several times for proclaiming the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, it would have taken a great deal of courage for him to go along with the soldiers at his door.

It would also have taken a great deal of moral courage for Cornelius to send for Peter. Not the kind of courage that it takes on the battlefield, but the kind of courage that opens one up to ridicule among one’s peers. The snickering and the back-biting and the gossip and mudslinging in which humans are so skilled. And no matter how grace-filled the moment when the Holy Spirit fell upon these Gentiles, the grace of God apparently created problems. How would the Gentiles be received into this new Church? How would Peter be able to justify his actions?

No, this reading that seems so wonderfully bucolic is hugely dynamic. And as it held implications and consequences for the early Church, it does so for us. How willing are we to step out of our comfort zone for the sake of the kingdom of God? How willing are we to risk actions that will break down the barriers that divide and separate us? How willing are we, in the face of the rise in modern day racism, to stand up for what is right and what is moral? How willing are we in this era when lies and half truths abound, to have the moral courage to stand up for the Truth?

These are all questions for which there are no easy answers. And, I guess, like for Peter and for Cornelius, the question is, how obedient are we to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit within us.

Faithfully,

Canon G+

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Connect the Dots: Palm Sunday and Easter

Strange though it may be, this message spans both Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. The one is a solemn recollection of our Lord’s betrayal, crucifixion and ignominious death. The other is a solemn celebration of the ultimate victory of God over death and the power of God shown forth in the face of the hostility of the world.

Can we connect the dots? Like the back of placemats found at some of our fine area restaurants, can we draw a line between point A and point B? Indeed we can.  In this instance, Holy Week is the linkage that connects the dots. Holy Week is the passage by which we are brought from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to Easter.  Holy Week is our invitation to walk with our Savior through the way of the Cross. We walk in the way of the Cross, so that we might be strengthened to bear our Crosses. By walking in the way of the Cross with Jesus, we are taught how to bear our crosses that we may find them, to borrow a phrase from the collect, “none other than the way of life and peace.”

I have great sorrow in my heart when I encounter those brave souls who occasionally admit, “I didn’t get much out of Easter this year.” I have great sorrow because they have missed a tremendous opportunity. What you are likely to get out of Easter is in direct proportion to the way in which you have prayed your way through Holy Week. Please note the Holy Week Schedule that’s featured in this newsletter.

Evidence of humans bearing crosses is abundant. If you doubt it, all you have to do is turn on the news any time of the day for about ten minutes. The reality of the Cross becomes abundantly clear. What Jesus shows us and gives us is hope. Because He bore His Cross, I dare to hope. Because the way of the Cross leads to the Resurrection, I dare to hope. and daring to hope, I am delivered from the chains of cynicism and despair.

Blessed Holy Week, Blessed Easter.

Fr. G+

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Of Ashes and Parkland

Earlier this past week, I suppose– like most of you– I was fixated on pancakes and Ash Wednesday. I found it jarring and distressing to come home Wednesday evening to learn that there had been another school shooting. This time Parkland Florida.

One reaction was, “Thank God it wasn’t here.” But then again, it very nearly happened here a few years ago, and it is only a matter of time before it happens again. Why should we be different than anywhere else? After all, Wellsboro has troubled youth just the same as anywhere else.

But the other reaction I had was even more troubling. It is another school shooting. They say Parkland, Florida was the 18th thus far this year in a year that is some 45 or 50 days old. It’s just another one. That disturbed me even more.

How long before we become entirely desensitized to such events? “It didn’t affect me.” Been there, seen it, done it. Heard it already. How long before we as a culture become totally indifferent to it?

I know that there are no simple answers, and that people seemingly have a great deal of difficulty listening to long-winded, complicated explanations for which we have no patience. And so we line up on sides of the issue: those for Second Amendment rights, and those who opine that those Second Amendment rights need to be curtailed. There are those who suggest that there be more stringent background checks.

But as they say in the investment business, “past performance is not an indicator of future performance.” The complicated answer would have to include our culture’s endemic fascination with violence, and it would also have to include indices of good mental health. Because individuals and societies who solve their problems (and persist in solving their problems) with violence or with drugs are not exhibiting indices of good mental health.

A component of good mental health is spiritual health. Here again we have a Gospel that seems familiar. We’ve heard about the Baptism of our Lord in Advent, and in Epiphany, and again this week for the 1st Sunday of Lent. It is a lesson that we’ve heard, except that this week we’ve the added detail that as a consequence of his baptism, Jesus was driven into the wilderness to wrestle with demons.

Does that resonate? For our very culture is in the wilderness, and wrestles with demons at this present hour.

Jesus overcame temptation by confronting the devil. Will we be able to do the same? Will we find the grace of God in the midst of all the brokenness that surrounds us on every side?

In the last analysis, Ash Wednesday is not about the personal dynamic of sin. We, of course, have made it very self-centered as though it is strictly about us and how we fall short as individuals. But there is a corporate dimension to Ash Wednesday and to the general confession of sin. There is a corporate dimension to the penitence of Lent. When you and I enter into it, we shed tears for the whole human condition. We shed tears that ours is a culture in which today there is a youth in our community who will try to find happiness by sticking a needle in his arm, her arm. We shed tears that there a youth out there somewhere whose mental estate is such that he takes a gun in his hand and dreams of settling a score. We shed streams of tears that as a culture we have not done well modeling the good, and showing the compelling nature of grace.

Benjamin Bedomme was a well-known minister of the Gospel who lived in the 1700’s. He was renowned for his preaching and for his hymn-writing. One of his hymns was popularized by the late folk-singer, Doc Watson. We sometimes sing that hymn on Saturday nights.

“Did Christ o’er sinners weep?
And shall our cheeks be dry?
Let floods of penitential grief
Burst forth from every eye.”

Weep therefore with Christ; are there not plentiful reasons that we should raise a flood of tears with Him in divine sorrow?

Faithfully,

Canon Greg+

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The Joy of Lent

If you have a living, dynamic relationship with the Lord Jesus, then Lent is an exciting time. What’s exciting is that it is the yearly invitation to focus on ways in which you can grow closer to Jesus through the practice of intentional, Christian discipline. Now, I am not writing about hair shirts, or flagellii, (whips and scourges), but I am writing about the intentioned practice of prayer, the use of time, and self-control.

The style of life for most of humans demonstrates about as much intentionality as a catfish rising to the dough bait on an August afternoon. We see something we want, and we go for it.

Lent offers a great gift. That gift is to slow down, to be intentional with the time we spend with the Lord Jesus, and to be intentional with the time that we spend with one another.

I have noticed that there tends to be a consistency to how a person treats others, that is reflected in how a person treats and interacts with the Lord Jesus. Learning to spend time with the Lord also teaches us how to spend time with others. Learning to listen to God teaches how to listen to others.

Ironically, if you want to become a better person, one way to do that is to pray more, not less. If you cannot find time for God, it is dubious that you can really find time for another person. The practice of prayer, a practice that seems so unnecessary to some, doesn’t make us only more “otherworldly,” it makes us more fully human.

All this is the invitation of Lent. It is also the gift that Lent gives us. I hope yours is a glorious one. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which is February 14–generally known as Valentine’s Day.

In addition to our regular services, there also is the opportunity for meditation on Sundays around 9 AM in the Chapel, and the Stations of the Cross will be offered on Tuesdays at Noon.

Faithfully,

Fr. Greg+

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Christmas Joy is Hope

We come again to the most wonderful season of Christmas. W e may celebrate the day with many cherished, familial customs and traditions. For some our celebration may be with  family and friends. For others it might be or alone, or with the memories of loved ones we remember. However we celebrate, by far the greater celebration is the gift, the coming of infant Jesus into the world. He, a king, for our sakes came into this world as a pauper. He through whom all things were created, came as a baby. He who is all powerful came as the one who is vulnerable to all things human. He who came as the expression of God’s love came into an environment which is largely indifferent, if not outright hostile to the mystery of His holy birth. He came as a human, υποτάσσω, which is the Greek word meaning subject, as in under the rules, limits and conditions of humanity. As we say in a familiar Eucharistic prayer: He lived and died as one of us.

But something there is that does not love grace and love in this world. The people in the inn were indifferent to the grace of God just a few yards beyond the back door. Herod wasn’t indifferent. He was outright hostile. And in this year, 2017, some two thousand years after Jesus’ birth, he still persists in coming into a world that is indifferent, if not outright hostile still. Yet, deny it though we might, people still need the Lord. We still need grace. Compassion, forgiveness and charity are lost commodities in our time and place. If we look at the crèche and see the love of God, then we most also an indictment of our ignorance and indifference to the greatest treasure of all time.

May it be that your hearts are curiously moved during this holy season. May that love of God still touch your hearts and souls and be that lever that pries away the sin of indifference.

Blessed Christmas to one and all!

 

Fr. G+

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A new look at John the Baptist

The humility of John the Baptist is striking. In an era when most are compelled to blow their own horns and where self-aggrandizement is the order of the day, John’s response might be a paradigm to us all. “Who are you?” ask the priests and Levites. It is a question about authority. “Who do you think you are? How dare you behave in this manner? Who gave you the authority to proclaim a message of repentance? Are you a prophet? Are you Elijah? Elijah was expected to return before the end of the age based on the prophecy of Malachi in Malachi 4.5-6, where it is written, ‘I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.’”

Those are the last words of the Old Testament. Those priests and Levites want to know by what right, by what commission, by what authority, is it that John does what he does. “Who are you? Give us an answer.”

And John’s answer is not very satisfactory to them. “I am not a prophet. I am not the Messiah. I am not Elijah. I am just one single, solitary voice crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. To get ready for His coming. To make his ways straight. I am here to get you ready to receive the one who will baptize you, not with mere water, but with Holy Spirit.”

We, of course, have been baptized with water and the Holy Spirit. While most of us are not holy rollers, wave our hands in the air and speak in tongues sorts of people, being infused with the Holy Spirit compels us to a certain world view:

For starters that includes:

The ability to rejoice always. We may not always be in circumstances that are happy circumstances. We may not always be able to be filled with cheer. Yet, as we know that we are in the fullness of God in Jesus Christ, we are in on a secret—that’s how the sufferings of the present time are not worthy of comparison to the glory that shall be revealed. The grounding of our rejoicing is that God has a plan for us and that God will carry us through all things, even when we do not see how it shall be possible for us.

Secondly, we are called to live a life of prayer. Living a life of prayer includes regular worship on the Lord’s Day, but it transcends filling a Sunday obligation. If you have a relationship with a significant other, but you only see them once a week, that relationship is not going to flourish. Chances are that relationship would deteriorate from your lack of attention. If your life is truly hidden with Christ in God, then you will find yourself resorting to pray frequently, such that it would be essentially praying with out ceasing.

Thirdly, in a life that is filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit eventually we learn not to quench the spirit. Have you ever the experience someone coming into a group with such negativity that they manage to poison any positivity that might have been?

If the spirit of the Lord is truly upon us, we will be preoccupied with building community and building relationships. We will focus on those things that unite, not divide us. We will come to recognize that we all bear a responsibility to encourage and to lift up not only ourselves but the culture in which we live. Because that’s what it is to be transformative in the name of our Lord Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Faithfully,

Canon G+

 

 

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Render unto Caesar . . .

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are God’s.” Most of us have little trouble rendering onto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Every year, quite a while before the deadline of April 15, we sit down and struggle with form 1040. In my instance, it usually winds up being a packet about 3 inches thick. Through the variety of computations and attached schedules we generally come to an understanding of exactly how many dollars and cents we need, under penalty of law, to render unto Caesar. Whether we feel cheerful or resentful doesn’t matter. We still need to send it. Some of us have been rendered enough and might be getting a refund; others of us are invited to send along a check to complete our being rendered. In some happier instances we look forward to a refund. That means of course that we’ve overpaid during the course of the year.

 When it comes to the matter of stewardship, it’s all different. There is no schedule 1040. There is no one demanding particularly that we give. There’s no schedule to be filed to tell us how we are to give, or under what circumstances we give. It’s a matter between what’s in our heart and what we know is right in proportion to what we know about our relationship with God. Far from being a compulsory burden, stewardship is supposed to be an occasion of joy. It is not an act based on compulsion, but an act that is based upon our loving response to the tender mercies which we have encountered from Almighty God.  The heart of stewardship stems from an awareness of the blessings that we have received during the year and during years past throughout our lifetimes.

 The very heart of stewardship rests on the notion that we are aware that we have received blessings from Almighty God, and that we are thankful and filled with gratitude for the blessings which we have received. We are asked to count our blessings and to approach the altar with hearts that are filled with thankfulness.

 Now, being human, it is our tendency often to base our system response of stewardship on what we see as the needs of the church. We all know costs go up in terms of price. Most of us know that from running our homes each year.  We also know how things go up in the life of our parish. Utilities, insurances of various sorts, Cost of living, (2% this year) necessary but routine repairs. We all know none of it goes down. We know that if our stewardship is strictly parish-needs based that for Saint Paul’s to

But ultimately the grounding of stewardship rests on the ways that we are aware that we have been and how we are blessed. That’s the thing that our theme for the year is supposed to remind us. It is not me and it is not you that have gotten for ourselves all that we have and all that we enjoy. Rather it is that all that we are and all that we have comes from God. The real challenge of those words of Deuteronomy “Be careful lest you may say to yourself, “my power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember to give your thank offering to the Lord your God.” The real challenge is don’t forget to be thankful, don’t forget to be grateful. Remember to show your gratitude to the Lord your God and offer your gift with thanksgiving.  

Faithfully,

Fr. Greg+

 

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