Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why is it hard for us to help each other in times of need?

“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

Rarely a week passes by without someone stopping in the parish office looking for some kind of help. Many times they need bus fare or help with utilities or rent. Other times they need gas money or food to get them through until the next paycheck. Some who seek our help are strangers; others are parishioners or friends of the church. As the economic times become more difficult, the requests become more frequent—it is harder to know just what the need will be of those who seek St. Andrew’s help.

James is not at all easy on us in today’s epistle. He sees the class divisions among us and calls them to our attention. James puts us all in our places when he points out that if we really believe in the Gospel of Jesus, presumably we will believe and follow his command to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we truly believe Jesus command, why is it so hard for us to turn away from the upper social classes, from whom we seek association and favor, and help those in need, who are least able to help us in return? Why is it hard for us to help each other in times of need?

In a couple of weeks we will look at the issues which surround our call to help our neighbors. Rhonda Davis and Jo-Anne Brust will present a program called Sucker or Saint and we will examine how we might respond to those who seek our help and answer the question we often ask our selves; “Am I being taken advantage of?”

In the mean time, remember your Rector’s discretionary funds as you think about how you can respond to the needs of others. There are never enough resources to meet all the needs, but like the starfish, we can make a difference to ‘that one.’

Father Mark

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Home-Grown Ideas to Create a Sabbath Practice

Wise words and practical ideas from Trinity News readers and noted Sabbath authors. These are excerpts from the Sabbath edition of Trinity News (Wall Street, NYC).

Keep it Simple: Prayer Prayer is the most traditional of Sabbath keepers. Prayer practices the presence of God. It pays attention to God as part of life. Whether in grace before meals, or in morning and evening prayers, or in prayers for a specific purpose, prayer keeps Sabbath. It sets aside time for God in the midst of time for other purposes. It can be words of petition or praise, a breath, a sigh, or a laugh. — from Sabbath Keeping by Donna Schaper

Pick an Appliance, Any Appliance Sabbath can only begin if we close the factory, turn out the lights, turn off the computer, and withdraw from the concerns of the marketplace. Chose at least one heavily used appliance or device — the telephone, television, computer, washer/dryer — and don’t use it for a Sabbath period. Whether it is a morning, afternoon, or entire day, surrender to a quality of time when you will not be disturbed, seduced, or responsive to what our technologies have to offer. Notice how you respond to its absence. — from Sabbath by Wayne Muller

Different Focus I have been giving thought to the sunset time on Saturday as a reminder to begin to wind down from my pursuits and warm up to the idea of rest on Sunday. In reality, I do work on Sunday, but I have a completely different focus as I begin the day. I don’t rush, I do not complain, I do not worry. I am open to the Holy Spirit and remind myself that each person I meet may be needing a “rest” even more than I do. — Reader Tandy Maxfield, via e-mail

The Musician’s Sabbath When I come home at night, and even in the mornings, I never listen to music. I just like the silence. Because I compose and perform music for a living, I associate silence with rest. Maybe it’s just the sounds of the forest, or the beach (if you’re lucky enough to live near one). I hear silence as Sabbath. — Owen Burdick, organist and choirmaster, Trinity Church

Many of us don’t think much about Sabbath observances but keeping Sabbath is one way to slow down your life and listen to the still small word of God. If you have a Sabbath practice you would like to share, we will compile a list of St. Andrew’s parish Sabbath keepers for future publication.

Father Mark

The Bread of Life

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—That perches in the soul—And sings the tune without the words—And never stops—at all … (Emily Dickinson)

When I was a college freshman the campus where I lived was located very near a large bakery, Mrs. Baird’s, in north Dallas. Every night the enticing smell of fresh baked bread would drift across the campus and into every building and residence hall. On the nights when the aroma was particularly strong you could see scores of students walking up Mockingbird Lane to the company store to purchase the fresh bread. The out-of-town students who didn’t know where to go to buy the bread followed upperclassmen past the bars and package stores and hotels and resturants to Mrs. Baird’s. What drove them to make that long walk was the hope that the bread they sought would measure up to the smell that enticed them to make their journey.

Sometimes we become lost and trapped in the hope that our journey will measure up. We become enticed by other aromas that lead us in other directions, away from Christ. Maybe something else is perched in our souls and the song that it sings is not the tune of hope but of despair.

Hope is what Jesus gives us—the promise of new life in Christ and with God for all eternity. We look to him in the hope that this is all true—in the faith that God would have us believe in Jesus.

In order to believe in Jesus—in order to live in this world experiencing heaven on earth, heaven here and now, all the while waiting for the life yet to come—we eat the bread of life, symbolizing our belief in and devotion to Jesus.

Unlike those freshmen who followed upperclassmen to the bakery, it is Jesus who can give us the bread of life— spiritual life in this world and eternal life in the life yet to come. All we have to do is believe and serve God as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.

Father Mark

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Guidelines to the 10 Commandments

I saw these guidelines on some internet post and they seemed pretty right-on. So, here they are . . .

God’s Guidelines to the Ten Commandments

Here are the first of ten guidelines to the 10 Commandments. God already gave us the 10 Commandments. Keep them. But follow these guidelines, also:

1. QUIT WORRYING Life has dealt you a blow and all you do is sit and worry. Have you forgotten that I am here to take all your burdens and carry them for you? Or do you just enjoy fretting over every little thing that comes your way?

2. PUT IT ON THE LIST Something needs to be done or taken care of. Put it on the list. No, not YOUR list. Put it on MY to-do-list. Let ME be the one to take care of the problem. I can't help you until you turn it over to Me. And although My to-do-list is long, I am after all... God. I can take care of anything you put into My hands. In fact, if the truth were ever really known, I take care of a lot of things for you that you never even realize.

3. TRUST ME Once you've given your burdens to Me, quit trying to take them back. Trust in Me. Have the faith that I will take care of all your needs . . . YOUR problems and your trials. Problems with the kids? Put them on My list. Problem with finances? Put it on My list. Problems with your emotional roller coaster? For My sake, put it on My list. I want to help you. All you have to do is ask.

4. LEAVE IT ALONE Don't wake up one morning and say, "Well, I'm feeling much stronger now, I think I can handle it from here." Why do you think you are feeling stronger now? It's simple. You gave Me your burdens and I'm taking care of them. I also renew your strength and cover you in my peace. Don't you know that if I give you these problems back, you will be right back where you started? Leave them with Me and forget about them. Just let Me do my job.

5. TALK TO ME I want you to forget a lot of things. Forget what was making you crazy. Forget the worry and the fretting because you know I'm in control. But there's one thing I pray you never forget. Please, don't forget to talk to Me - OFTEN! I love YOU! I want to hear your voice. I want you to include Me in on the things going on in your life. I want to hear you talk about your friends and family. Prayer is simply you having a conversation with Me. I want to be your dearest friend.

. . . to be continued.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, not angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8:38-39)

There is a new debate coming out of General Convention this year. It is the age old question which theologians have struggled with through the centuries, “are we saved by works or saved by grace.” I for one, am happy to see this question being asked because I know either answer is good (though for me one is better than the other.)

Presiding Bishop Schori has called it the "great Western heresy—that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God." In some quarters it occurs through "insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus." The specific verbal formula she refers to is what some of us call the Jesus Prayer; “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

I have always been strangely suspicious of placing too much faith in my recitation of the Jesus Prayer. It seems so presumptuous to believe that my salvation can be influenced by this simple act. I understand how some might fall into this Pelagian heresy—believing that Jesus set for us a good example and provides the atonement for our sins. But, this allows humanity to possess full control and responsibility for obeying the Good News of Christ. We don’t have that much control. If it were completely up to us no one would every achieve salvation.

As we travel upon our individual roads toward God we are under constant attack by the enemy, whose favorite target is our vanity. When we are determined to find that personal door to salvation, he attacks most viciously by telling us we can petition our way to God. The Jesus Prayer is a wonderful little piece of mystical spirituality. Through it we can lay all that is in our hearts at the feet of Jesus. But it is not the source of our salvation—that belongs to God. When we say “Yes” to the free gift of God’s grace, then we are assured our place in the Heavenly realm.

Works are good—Grace is better. Don’t be distracted by the doctrines of man but focus on the Dogma of God in Christ Jesus.

Father Mark

Sunday, July 12, 2009

We are held together by our common faith and love for each other

Once again we are entering that triennial time Episcopalians call General Convention; always a time of coming together in faith to talk and worship—but recently a time of controversy and disruption in our church. This week a local news reporter opened his story on Convention with the prediction of loss of membership and continued conflict between the various constituencies. How mis-guided, sad, and sinful.

I am continually amazed at the ways we humans in general and Christians in particular, have to act sinfully toward each other. The human capacity to make massive mistakes is virtually unlimited in this world. We were born into a world of greed and our ability to delude ourselves about that greed is amazing. We get caught up in sin and don’t even know it.

When our governing body meets at General Convention, Episcopalians seem eager to line up at the feeding trough of controversy, self-seeking, and judgmental-ism, waiting for reports of actions which we deem heretical. Fortunately, our polity contains a series of checks and balances to control the actions of over-eager cynics and foot-dragging sentimentalists. I for one will be listening to the reports from Convention with a different ear this year.

I recognize that there are many agendas in our church and in the world and the best we can hope for is to live in a community of faithful people who continually remind each other we are not the center of the universe. We are cracked vessels and the best we can hope for is to love our crooked neighbors with our own crooked hearts.

In this season as in all others, I implore you to love each other. Hold your differences lightly in your hands and look for your common faith which has held us together and strengthened us over the centuries. Love is not a small thing. Love conquerors all.

Father Mark

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Shouldn't We Be Strong for Christ?

“I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

When Jesus sent his Apostles out two by two, he made sure they went out in their weaknesses – with no provisions except a walking stick. As I think about the journey’s I made over the last two weeks, I am reminded how difficult it would be to travel without provisions. I certainly took all the stuff I thought I’d need. I traveled light, but with several changes of clothes, my cell phone, money, and my Bible.

But when we go into the world as representatives of Christ, we are called to go out in our weakness: for then we will be strong.

How can this be, we ask? Shouldn’t we be strong for Christ?

Our answer is this; when we act as representatives of Christ we are armed with the Grace of God and the power of Jesus Christ. We are armed with a sense of humility in our devotion to our Lord and Savior and we are equipped with the gift of God’s grace which covers all contingencies we might face.

As we go about living our lives of grace and peace in our neighborhoods and communities and workplaces, be bold in allowing the Love of God to show forth through the lives we live. As St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel at all times . . . when necessary, use words.”

It is not our words that bring people to Christ but our actions.

Father Mark

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Do You Hear God's Call?

As I was sitting at the lunch table with several new friends I noticed a small place-card. Hand written on one side of the card was my name and on the other side was a piece of Scripture that read, “Here am I, Lord, send me!”

I was dumbfounded. Only hours before I had told a priest in the Diocese that I was discerning a call to the ordained ministry. The person who placed this card at my table had no idea of my calling. I hoped this weekend would help me in that discernment process; but now, I was feeling pressure to ‘work’ on my call.

That was in February 1993. I struggled for years before deciding to turn the process over to God – who was in control anyway. I experienced many other incidences like this which kept confirming that I was doing what God wanted me to do – one step at a time.

It hasn’t always been easy. There have been setbacks and successes. What I have discovered is God’s call to us does not always lead us where we expect to go. It is not always about great appointments to grand religious edifices or preaching to vast seas of communicants. Most times there is a single person God wants us to speak to – a single set of ears in need of the message. God’s call to us is about being faithful – to the Gospel message of God’s love for all people, to the work He has set before us, and faithful to His desire to live in relationship with us.

Isaiah found what we also know. God’s call is never easy. Ministry is messy and often not simple to understand. The world pushes back against us and we push back against God. But we are called to be different and as disciples of Jesus we live in the midst of God’s love and when we hear the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” we respond as Isaiah did by saying, “Here am I, Lord, send me!”

Father Mark

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pentecost: A time of coming together in faith

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. We are not sure of its actual beginnings. Over two dozen cities and towns lay claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established.

Traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Many Americans have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored – neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades.

Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.

In many ways, Pentecost has become like Memorial Day – increasingly ignored and neglected. Our culture has no Pentecost celebration – no gift exchanges, no saints or “ho-ho-ho’s” or decorations on the lawns of our homes. And yet, what more could we ask for than to be led into all truth, uniting many peoples in the confession of one faith, and giving to the Church the power to serve God and proclaim the Gospel message.

O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Father Mark

Sunday, May 17, 2009

There is something in the air

There was something in the air last Sunday – Mother’s Day – that seemed very different: something special and unusual. There was a feel of community that I had not felt before – and that is saying a lot because this parish has a feel of community like few other churches I have ever seen.

A symptom of what I am describing was breakfast. As I entered the parish hall, one of the men said to me “We’ve run out of food.” “Of course,” I thought, “look at all the people!” John Fisher was so busy counting the crowd that I walked right past him without his noticing. “Sixty-five people!” John said, “sixty-five for breakfast might be a new record,” he added. Everywhere I looked there was lively conversation and joy. But what I was feeling wasn’t about numbers of people. It was something else.

Several parishioners stopped that day to talk to me about new callings they were hearing in their lives. Everyone seemed to have good news and positive attitudes. A few people – more than normal – wanted to schedule appointments to discuss spiritual matters. “What’s going on?” I thought. It was great!

As I have pondered these things in my heart this week, I have come to believe that this parish is in the process of receiving something for which we had not gone looking. We are receiving something we did not create, nor could we ever have earned. It is a gift and our name is on it. I think we are feeling the effects of being given the gift of ‘fruit-bearing’: making smart decisions and discerning actions which best serve the intentions of a loving God.

We feel the responsibilities associated with the gifts we receive – responsibilities that say, “not only are we to reach out with caring and thoughtfulness, but we are to bear fruit that will last.” What does that mean?

Obviously, some 'fruit' does not last. Short-sightedness, impulsiveness, raw ambition, and greed: the list is long and everyone can knowingly add to it by cultivating the fruits that rot rather than last.

But, bearing good fruit means making wise choices and good decisions for the work of God and His church. It means acting thoughtfully over a life time; discerning what thoughts, words, and deeds best serve the intentions of a loving God in this world. God has pruned our branches and we are producing. Welcome to the vineyard!

Father Mark

Sunday, May 10, 2009

For Mother's Day

I was raised in a small farming community in northern Indiana. It was a Norman Rockwell kind of place. I could ride my bike from one end of town to the other – and I often did. There was a community swimming pool where I hung out in the summer, and my uncle had a farm just outside of town where I hung out any other time I could. Everybody knew me – or my Mom and Dad.

The thing that I remember most about growing up there was my extended family. Until I was thirteen I lived in the same town as both sets of my grandparents, four of my six aunts and uncles, and six of my ten cousins. Holidays were long, large, and loud. Everyday living could include a trip to both grandparents – and often did. I didn’t realize until much later in life how much this influenced who I am.

My mom was a teacher and a homemaker. For most of my early years I thought she was just my mom. I say ‘just’ because she didn’t work ‘outside of the home’ (as we say today.) She didn’t have to because there was plenty of work for her to do inside of our home. In those days we had one car and her first ‘job’ was to take my dad to work. (I walked to school – I also walked home for lunch, which mom made each day.) I don’t remember what she fixed, but I liked it more than the cafeteria food that Tilly-the-school-cook made. After school Mom met me at home for the de-briefing – “how was your day, what did you do, do you have any homework.” Then it was out to play.

My friends each lived a short bike ride away so when it was time to be home for dinner, Mom simply yelled out the back door; “M-A-R-R-R-R-K!” When I heard that I knew I had about three minutes to get home.

When I was a little older, Mom drove me to my music lessons in a neighboring city where there was a small college. On that thirty-minute drive we talked and joked and generally had a good time. I saw a side of Mom I don’t know existed – she was fun. Sometimes we sang our own song, “Terror of the Highways.” On weekends, the family often went camping together and Mom would hike with me or help me build a fire or shoot my bow. She was involved in my life everyway she could be until I moved away.

Mom died in 2000 after battling Alzheimer’s disease for nearly ten years. The real tragedy of this sickness is it changes the way we remember people. For a while I remembered Mom as the person with dementia that I took care of – who couldn’t remember any of the details of her daily life, including who I was. But now, after time has passed, I remember Mom as the person she was in my life – my coach, teacher, friend, disciplinarian, and Mom.

Thanks Mom. I love you.
Father Mark

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Strage Story of my Call to St. Andrew's Church

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. My story of being called to St. Andrew’s is one of those times. In honor of Mother Gaye’s visit with us today, I want to tell you the story of how I came to be called to St. Andrew’s as your next rector.

Mother Gaye led a monthly meeting at Camp Weed of new clergy in the Diocese of Florida. I was a member for the first year and a half of my ordained ministry. Near the end of my time with the group, we held a conversation about what we envisioned as our next step in ministry. Mother Gaye facilitated this conversation and each person was given the opportunity to contribute their thoughts. I don’t remember too much about what was said, but I do remember what was not said, and that is where the story gets interesting.

A few weeks after the meeting, a friend of mine told me that Mother Gaye thought I was not interested in a position at a parish in the Diocese that was looking for a new rector. I said, “I never said that. I only said I wasn’t looking at this time.”

After a few days of thinking about this I decided to schedule a meeting with Mother Gaye to try and clarify the situation. We talked about my ideal parish. I told her, and that I thought in another year I would have finished my obligations at Church of Our Saviour, and would be ready to begin my search in earnest. She mentioned a few opportunities to think about, we shook hands and I started to leave her office. “What a minute,” she said. “Have you thought at all about St. Andrew’s?” “No,” I replied. “I thought that position had been filled long ago.” Mother Gaye said I should look at their web site, and if I was interested I should send her my resume as soon as possible.

That night I became a serious candidate to be your rector. As I looked at your website and read the information about your search process I knew that this was something special – something of God.

The rest of the story you know. The Childer’s visited me at Church of Our Saviour one Sunday; I had many interviews with your Search Committee, and soon thereafter I was called to be the fifth Rector of St. Andrew’s parish.

Maybe you had to be there in order for this story to be especially meaningful or unusual. But I thought you would like to hear how God works in our lives. Sometimes we are struck by the clarity of God’s call, and sometimes we are in awe of the subtly of His work. I am thankful that so many people were faithfully listening to His voice and carrying out the work He has for us.

Thank you, Mother Gaye, Dave and Carol Childers, Dallas, and the St. Andrew’s Search Committee. Without everyone’s faithful response to God’s call I would never have had the opportunity to write this to you – or to miss being with you this day.

Peace, Father Mark