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“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” -Philippians 2:1-4

This morning marked my first time serving as a Lay Eucharistic Minister (LEM), as well as my first time in nearly a year serving as a Lector at St Peters Church. I served as the LEM at our 8AM said service, guided by the wonderful Jinny Lavoie, who along with Jim Sweet are the LEMs at that service. I awoke this morning at the first beep of the alarm clock at 6:15, a rare occurrence for me, as I normally snooze the alarm more than a few times. I often find it funny that Sundays are the days that I normally wake up the earliest! I made it to church at 7:45, Jinny found an appropriate alb for me, and she walked me through the setup routine for which the LEM is responsible. Lighting the candles on the altar, opening the doors, placing the elements on the Baptismal altar down back.

The time came for the service to begin. I proceeded over to the lectern to get the cross for the processional. The weight of the cross carried a symbolic aspect to it, one I didn’t realize until just now. Fr Paul said the prayer, and I led the procession to the sanctuary. At the appropriate time, I bowed before the altar and proceeded to lectern to read the lessons and Psalm.

As I looked out upon the congregation, I was humbled. After leaving them for nine months, they had welcomed me back with such hospitality and grace. I was serving them by reading the lessons. I am inspired to read for these folks, to tell the stories, lead the Psalm and give a voice to the Epistle in a way that moves them, that resonates with them. Being back on that lectern in this church is a gift from God and God’s people. Thanks be to God for them!

The next significant moment this morning was reading the Prayers of the People. At our 8am said service we use the Rite I liturgy, and we use the Prayers of the People from that liturgy, regardless of what Prayers are used at our principal service. As I opened the first paragraph with “Almighty and everliving God, who in thy holy Word hast taught us to make prayers, and supplications, and to give thanks for all men:”, I found myself choked up. I have heard and prayed those prayers from the pews over a hundred times, but leading them was a whole new, holy and again humbling experience. It was as though I could hear Jim and Jinny’s voices in my mind, guiding my cadence, filling in the optional sections, and I did ok. There is a sort of memorization I have found with the liturgy, like when you can sing along to a song despite not necessarily being able to sing the song unaccompanied.

During Holy Communion, I assisted at the altar and took my cues from Jinny. My first time ringing the Sanctus bell was a bit meek, but by the last appointed ring of the bell I gave it an inspired tap with the mallet. Having received Communion in both kinds after Fr Paul and Fr Dan, I proceeded to follow Fr Paul across the Communion rail as the chalicer. I spoke the words “The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation”, administered the chalice, and remembered to wipe and turn. Again, I was humbled to serve the people of God.

My first experience serving the folks at this church in this capacity is not one I will soon forget. In fact, I have written on my heart and will cherish it forever.

Thanks be to God!

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I love the wind and string instruments! I love everything about this video! Thanks be to God!

Examining my epiphany, part 1

“It’s not about you; it’s all about Jesus. Don’t be satisfied with just knowing that … Let it seep into you until it merges with your DNA.” –Pastor Tom

“These moments come to us and are rare. They are unexpected.” –Fr Paul

“For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.” -Luke 1:37-38

My priest, Fr Paul, suggested that I delve deeper into the experience that was my epiphany. I sent him two free form writings, and I figured I would share. You can get context from the My Epiphany page if you haven’t read about it.

I remember it so well.

It is Saturday August 13th, and I think I was up early for me on a Saturday, but we had a pretty open chill day ahead. I was met with the realization that the next day was Sunday August 14th, the day that Grace Church’s doors were going to be open again. I had gone through the “excitement” if you will of seeing your time through at St Peters like I could simply come back and then move on when you did. Rightly so, you properly advised that this was not your wish.

I was at a crossroads of sorts, although I figured I would probably spend the rest of the day fretting.

I sat down at the table on our deck with my coffee and decided to catch up on my blog subscriptions. I came across the first post I mentioned, and as I mentioned, had an initial reaction and then was given cause to reconsider based on the comments on her post. Certainly, it gave me pause to think. I finished reading the other blogs I subscribe to and decided to browse the recent WordPress posts tagged with Christianity. Pastor Tom’s post. jumped off the second page at me. I read it. I read it again. I walked out to my driveway to the spot where I normally go to smoke, the sun beating down on me as though I was an ant under some cruel kid’s magnifying glass, and it happened. I may have half-muttered some expletives as I am known to do when I have worked on a problem for a long time without result and then it all becomes clear. And that is when my epiphany was given to me. I am sure more of those fun expletives followed. And I was
the happiest boy on Earth in that moment. I literally felt like running into the streets yelling and screaming that my eyes had finally been opened. It was like I had been emptied of my anxiety and filled with God’s peace.

Later, I remember basking in what I perceived as the irony that the epiphany came less than 24 hours from the opening of the doors at Grace.

I believe God called me back to St Peter’s in that moment. A concrete event, so subtle yet so complex in its fabric.

More to come

the second email

I remember fear, fear that this event, this realization, this feeling would be fleeting. That it would be gone within hours, or days. I remember the feeling of being resolute to not allow that to happen, to cast the experience into something almost tangible within my soul. To write it on my heart. To live each day with it on the forefront of my mind.

So far, so good.

Peace

Chris

Faith in our transitions

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

“But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’” -Matthew 20:13-16

My previous post started out as this post, but went in a different direction so I went with it. I wanted to see this post through, so here it is, enjoy.

I was blessed to hear two wonderful sermons this past Sunday and they have inspired this post. The first sermon I heard was from the new rector at a church in a neighboring town. This church had spent some transitional time with a priest-in-charge, and had made the call to find a new rector. The second sermon I heard was from the Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts at my church. We are in a different point in our transition, as both of our priests are leaving and we are seeking a priest-in-charge to lead us through the next phase of our community. Both sermons were aimed at congregations in transition, albeit at different points in their transitions.

Rev. Elledge’s sermon at St Andrew’s Marblehead started with some humor, and progressed into how we stumble on the notion of those working one hour receiving the same compensation as those who worked an entire day in the hot sun. We have this fixed notion of the economy and how it should reward us for our individual contribution. However, the good Reverend then offered us this notion, that God’s economy was wholly different than ours. In God’s economy, it was the community that was the focus, not the individual. I would offer that the community is the whole body of Christ, as I think he would as well. The equity in God’s economy is that the whole community thrives, supported by its members supporting each other. I offer that those who have less in material abundance teach those who have more in material abundance, and the latter are required to support the former with that abundance.

And while it did not hit me fully until today, what I experienced at St Andrew’s Marblehead was the realization of hope for our future at St Peter’s Salem. A man cut from the same cloth that both of our departing priests share. His focus on social justice and collaboration stood out to his new congregation during the search process. Maybe God gave me a peek at what might be in store for us.

Bishop Shaw’s sermon focused more on the aspects of the parable as it related to the changing spectrum of our church community. He spoke of how we had done amazing things in the short time that our Hispanic ministry has been part of our church. He talked about how every time Jesus told a parable, what the Kingdom of Heaven was like was a surprise. How God’s abundance will always surprise us, and how, despite our anxieties, reservation, or trepidation, we should embrace what we have become and God will provide for us.

What I experienced at the service at St Peter’s was more than an inspired sermon though. I experienced a united community of two English and one Spanish language services in church at 5pm on a Sunday. Lay leaders from all services on the altar and on the lectern. One service, one church united as the Body of Christ.

I returned to St Peter’s Salem on faith alone, having experienced an epiphany so powerful that it rocked me to the core of my very being. I didn’t ask what the plan was for next year. I have disciplined myself to trust God on these matters, even if they make me anxious, terrified, or simply question the sanity of them. God has answered me at every turn. Not immediately mind you, but in due time, and I have found peace in being patient. Whether through a sudden realization or through the great spiritual wisdom of my priest, I continue to find that peace. You know, the peace that passes all understanding.

Peace

Chris

The abundance of God

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

“But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’” -Matthew 20:13-16

As we consider and pray on this past Sunday’s Gospel, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, I would imagine each one of us stumbles on the notion of those working one hour receiving the same compensation as those who worked an entire day in the hot sun. We may stumble on the notion of a new peer at work receiving more compensation than we do, simply due to the economics of opportunity. We may stumble on the notion of a new person at church having the same opportunities and recognition as a member of the body of Christ as we do.

We stumble on these notions because our thoughts are human. We stumble on this parable because our humanity causes us to focus on ourselves, on what is fair and unfair for us. We fixate ourselves on past events and think, “well, if I had known that would be the outcome, I would have asked for more, or refused the offer”. As Isaiah was so inspired to write on God’s behalf, our ways are simply not God’s ways.

God loves all of creation equally, and merely asks that we love Him in return. Loving God implies that we love all of creation equally, that others’ suffering is our burden, others’ happiness is our joy, that we are all part of the body of Christ. Loving God means that we follow Christ, that we love our neighbors as ourselves, that we forgive as we would ask to be forgiven.

Here then lies the rub, loving God is the easiest thing to do all, yet as my priest reminded me, the hard part is remembering to do it. We are broken, and it is hard sometimes to want to fix ourselves. It is hard to trust God, to have faith that God will provide, to find that spark of the divine within and to set our sinful beings aside and sacrifice that part of our selves that is utterly human and in no way even the slightest bit divine.

We have to start small, like children, and keep working on it bit by bit. We cannot stop, we cannot give up, we cannot allow ourselves to be discouraged from persevering in our journey to love God when we sin. The Deceiver enjoys nothing more than a human who gives up their journey entirely because they don’t see the finish line. There simply is no finish line in our journey towards loving God. We are not Christ, but we must continue to strive to be as much like Christ as we can.

God’s abundance is an unfathomable mystery, but if this parable teaches us one thing, it teaches us that God’s abundance is spread equally to all of God’s creation. We must treat our abundance in the same manner, regardless of what we regard the worthiness of our neighbors to be.

Another brilliant post from Fr Paul over at his blog Heaven and Earth!

A Celebration and Blessing of Civil Union
I met Andre and Kevin on Facebook. My son introduced them to me when he celebrated their engagement to his friends right there in front of God and everyone on Facebook. Being who I am, I rejoiced in the announcement. Both young men were children of the church, but their particular denominations were a bit hesitant to celebrate and bless their love. Not me! I was among the first to congratulate them.
Andre and Kevin then wondered aloud to Michael if I would travel from Boston to Chicago to perform their nuptials. They asked, and I gladly accepted. I would travel half way around the world to celebrate and bless the wedded bliss of those who wish to love one another, just as Jesus said we should. After all I am a priest of the church and this is what we do. We marry off folks, we baptize babies and adults, we bury the dead. We visit the sick. And as long as there is life in me I will do the deeds and travel far and wide for anybody asking the church’s blessing for any and all of the above sacraments.
I know that some churches are reluctant to bless folks who love one another if they happen to be of the same sex and propose to enter into covenantal relationships with one another. But I do not represent “some churches”. I represent one tiny corner of the Christian/Faith world that rejoices as I do when folks fall in love. When that love gets serious and is more than just infatuation but is of the sort that wishes to be faithful in a life long union, I’ll be the first in line to bless such a union.
There are no barriers to such a union in my church. There are no racial, ethnic, class, gender or orientation barriers in my church. We are tiny. Not all of our priests are gung-ho about such relationships, but I am. We are a scandal to much of the Communion. Our Archbishop has rattled our knuckles with his ecclesiastical ruler. But we all smiled and embraced the beloved of God and removed all barriers to Baptism, Marriage, and Burial and even ordination!
When I got home from Chicago, I put it up on Facebook that “The Deed is Done”. Scores of people expressed their joy and enthusiasm and were quite complimentary to me for being “cool”, one even called me a “dude”…a first for this cleric.
But then I was taken to task by one of my West Virginian friends. He questioned the blessing by saying that I was merely playing up to the culture and fudged on my responsibility to preach the truth of God. This he suggested was the more loving thing to do. I tried to reason with the man, alas to no avail.
I removed his posts from my Facebook page ultimately because I felt we all have a right to go to our marriage bed with delight and glee just as I did when I married my lovely bride 31 years ago. When we heterosexuals get married, we have the privilege of doing so without our loves being a matter of debate.
I have decided the same will hold true for my LGBTQ friends. My church is a “House of Prayer for All People”. PERIOD. We are not Jews and Greeks, we are not slave and free, we are not male and female in my church. We are one in Christ just as the blessed Apostle to the Gentiles said (Galatians 3:28). It follows we are not defined by race, ethnicity, class, gender or orientation. We are defined as being one in Christ. Thus I have argued before in this blog when I set forth a biblical base for the Rainbow Marriage.
Please don’t be offended when I use the name of Jesus and Christ. When I use the Name, I am not doing so to be exclusive, but to be centered. I am clearly Christ centered in the sense that I believe that Jesus is the clearest example I have seen yet of the love of God made flesh in human form. But I am not Christ exclusive. Neither was Jesus. When he fed the multitudes on the hillsides of Galilee he didn’t check church membership, or any other convenience of human classification.
The only requirement to be loved by God in the Person of Jesus, is to be human. That will suffice. Be human, that is all that Jesus requires.
And that’s all I require too. So if you want to get married, have a baby/child/adult to be baptized, have a loved one who is sick, or if there are the dead to be buried, just let me know. Or let any priest of the church know. And we will be there for you.
By the way, I am an Episcopalian, if that matters to anybody. So far that’s the only Catholic and Apostolic church around that comes right out and says such a thing.
And remember, God loves you and so do I,
Fr. Paul

 

Forgiveness is not optional

“Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” -Romans 14:4

“Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” -Matthew 18:21-22

The theme for our services this morning was “remember to love”. Our Gospel for today, the instruction from Jesus to Peter concerning forgiveness and the parable of the unforgiving servant, is the perfect lesson for this day. As a side note, this Scripture was chosen for this day in this Lectionary Year at least 32 years ago, if not longer. The Lord works in mysterious ways indeed.

This morning, in his daily Twitter 140-character homily, Fr James Martin, SJ tweeted the following:

Gospel: Forgiveness is hard, but it brings life. It frees you from resentments, and can allow the one forgiven to experience God’s mercy.

Yes, folks, forgiveness is hard, but God would not have sent Christ to teach us that forgiveness is required as we are forgiven by God if it was easy. We must show mercy as God has shown mercy to us. Through forgiveness we release the resentment, the anger, and the desire for retribution. Only then can we truly serve God and see the Kingdom of Heaven that is God’s love. Only then can we pave the road to peace by loving our neighbors, even if some of them are our enemies.

Early on in this stage of my journey, I recall my priest teaching us about forgiveness at a bible study. He told us plainly that when we harbor resentment, hold a grudge, you name it, we are the ones who are being punished by our own refusal to forgive. He suggested that the idea of hell is this very scenario. In C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, Lewis portrays many interactions where those in purgatory/hell are there out of their own choosing, their own inability to forgive even when faced with the opportunity to do so and enter Heaven.

I think too often we equate forgiveness with condoning and/or forgetting the action that requires it. Too often we forget that Jesus is constantly teaching us, commanding us, to love and forgive. We somehow skip that part and we don’t realize that resentment, retaliation, retribution and the like are the weeping and gnashing of teeth. That we are the ones burning with anger, seething with rage, and locked in the Gehenna of our own making.

We must do the hard thing and take the narrow gate and forgive. If we do not forgive, we will never know what it means to love God and walk in love as Christ loved us.

Peace

Chris