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