Sermon, Clergy Day 11/3/11
Commemoration of Richard Hooker
The Rt. Rev. Paul V. Marshall, Bishop of Bethlehem
Would you, with all your gifts and talents, want to be remembered for a piece of furniture? I thought not, so let’s mention the three-legged stool and move on.
As our own Phil Secor and countless others have reminded us, Richard Hooker was no mere pragmatist or compromiser. He was a theologian. As John Booty has pointed out in his Reflections, some of Hooker’s major themes are community, worship, and sacramental completeness.
Just coming from All Saints Day, we have had occasion to think about “happy are they,” happy being a limping translation for makarios, a Greek word for that state of completeness, integrity, and way-beyond-good-feeling that the gods enjoy. Hooker’s explication of community and worship were not so much meditations on the Elizabethan settlement as they were exploration of what it takes to make people “happy.” For him the answer was wholeness of relationship to God and society.
The Church was, for Hooker, a special locus within general society where mutuality and cooperation were manifest. In his time people argued about the “marks” of a true church, and it is instructive to imagine how those lists would have changed if mutuality and cooperation were benchmarks against which each body tested itself and others.
Mutuality and cooperation. That is not a pragmatic formulation from the mind of one who sought peace at any price. These words reflect how Hooker understood the universe: “God has made nothing for itself.” (Sermon on Pride)
In a famous passage in the first book of The Laws, Hooker points to the whole cosmos working together in all its parts, concluding that our attention to the facto of fundamental created interrelatedness is “the stay of the whole world.” Do we do our part to keep the cosmos humming smoothly?
Our times demand that we add emphatically that Christ the reconciler is the center of that world. For Hooker, our response to recognition of the truth that the world is centered in fundamental interrelatedness is worship, awe, and…wonder. Hooker is way ahead of us is anticipating that delightful prayer that concludes the baptismal rite, asking for the new Christian, “the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” To be makarios, happy, is to have the joy of contemplating God’s creation of a universe of interrelation. That will preach 411 years after his death.
That attitude of wonder is Hooker’s “needful sword” to slice through the knot of eucharistic theology. After, all, one cannot come to the table doing math. Hooker the communicant was ready to leave Hooker the academic at home and came as his more basic self when he came to communion:
“Why should any cogitation possess the mind of a faithful communicant but this, ‘O my God, thou art here, O my soul, thou art happy.’”
Hooker considered the shape of the liturgical container for this experience of happiness a non-trivial matter. Rather like Jacob’s Dream or a Gary Larsen cartoon about the afterlife, Hooker imagined worship as including a kind of two-way escalator, with angels constantly bringing down truth, and taking back praise and prayers.
Occasioning such an event was not to be an off-hand matter. Book Five of the Laws has historical and theological concern for liturgy, but it argues for the maintenance of public form and private freedom in a highly pastoral way (and forgive me here for reading from my dissertation of 30 years ago). Hooker says that fixed liturgies work to help that imbecility and weakness in us, by means whereof we are otherwise of ourselves the less apt to perform unto God so heavenly a service, with such affection of heart, and disposition in the powers of our souls as is requisite. To this end therefore all things hereunto appertaining have been ever thought convenient to be done with the most solemnity and majesty that the wisest could devise. It is not with public as with private prayer. In this rather secrecy is commended than outward show, whereas that being the public act of a whole society, requireth accordingly more care to be had of external appearance. (V.21.1)
Imbecility. Participating in a common liturgy invites me to confront my own randomness, immaturity, and lack of direction by letting the rite, the cosmos, the community, and my apprehension of those escalator angels shape me. Imbecility ministered to by majesty.
There is a warning here. We who are asked to lead the church must always care for our imbecility through liturgy and personal prayer, as Hooker says. And care for the imbecile next to you.
Care for the imbecile next to you. I have spent many years now noticing chatter, sometimes even running commentary, by clergy and other church leaders gathered for public worship. I have seen crowds talking away while world-class musicians have played world-class music. I have known some of you to tell me that you won’t sit by so-and-so because you cannot worship through the constant chatter. Let’s respect the imbeciles around us. Some may be bearing heavy burdens; others may be struggling to see light; still others may trying to lose themselves in adoration of God.
I’ve wondered why we do this. Is it anxiety about not being in the driver’s seat in this liturgy? Is it difficulty in accepting that other people have ways of functioning that reflect integrity as much as ours do? Or is it a defense, a defense against the numinous or even a defense against our doubts? Is it a way to cut God down to size?
In any case, Hooker calls us to transcend such behavior so that the neighbor and we ourselves are more free to notice the angels going up and down, receive what they bring, and load up their pouches with our praise and prayer. In this, he says, we will be happy.
Remembering Richard Hooker is remembering that ultimately God makes us happy by making us connected, connected to the universe, our maker, and each other. He invites us to discipline ourselves for wonder, to care for our imbecility and the imbeciles around us, that that all may say, “O my God, thou art true; O my soul, thou art happy.”
Sermon, Clergy Day 11/3/11
[Note: The sequence for the appointment of a priest-in-charge is search, selection, and acceptance by the vestry including request that the bishop appoint the person as priest-in-charge, approval of the contract by the archdeacon, notification by the archdeacon to the bishop who appoints the priest-in-charge.]
[From senior warden Charles Buttz and the vestry] September 12, 2011
We are most pleased to announce that The Reverend Robert J. Criste-Troutman has been called to be Priest-in-Charge of Trinity Episcopal Church, Mt. Pocono. Trinity's Search Committee recommended Fr. Bob for this appointment after evaluating some 12 candidates, so you may be certain he has some very special qualities!
For the past 10 years, Father Bob, as he prefers to be called, has been Rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Washington, NJ. During his tenure at St. Peter's, parish membership expanded and Church School attendance more than quadrupled. Fr. Bob also receives high praise from his St. Peter's parishioners for his insightful sermons, his ability to communicate with young people, and his gentle pastoral manner.
Fr. Bob is aware that Trinity has some major challenges in its future, and is looking forward to joining forces with us to help us do God's work in Northeastern Pennsylvania. He should arrive at Trinity in mid-October 2011, and a formal reception for him is in the planning stages. I know you will join with the Vestry in warmly welcoming him to Trinity Church and to the Poconos!
For the Vestry of Trinity Episcopal Church
Charles Buttz, Sr. Warden
Op-Ed by Brian Pavlac
Citizens Voice, Wilkes-Barre
Published: June 25, 2011
Unions are dying in America. Their percentage of the workforce has declined from about 32 percent 60 years ago to under 12 percent today. Many of those that remain are under assault, especially since new Republican governors have targeted public employee unions.
Some of the death of unions results from many people seeing unions as unnecessary. In the last half of the 20th century, governments have indeed spread some of the benefits of unionization to the public by legislating protections of paid holidays and vacation, minimum wages and overtime, safe workplace conditions, etc.
Increasingly, though, unions are not naturally declining, but being murdered. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, corporate executives, and their political allies who have never liked the power assembled in union activity are more motivated than ever to finish them off. Many conservatives hated the recent successful bailout of GM and Chrysler because it allowed the auto unions to survive. Businesses have also deliberately moved factories and offices to states and countries whose laws and customs limit unionization.
Why are they trying to kill unions? Laissez-faire economists say that unions make us less competitive in international markets (although most of our competitor industrialized nations have higher rates of unionization). Corporate executives say the high union wages and benefits cost too much (although corporate profits and executive salaries are now at near-record high levels while median household incomes remain stagnant or in decline). Governors say public unions are bankrupting their states (although lack of tax revenues in an economic slump is more to blame). Libertarians condemn unions as evil socialist collectivization.
True, unions use collective bargaining to empower workers who as individuals would be in a weak position to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Is that so bad?
Unions indeed arose more than a century ago because too many businesses used to exploit workers. As the industrial revolution geared up, business leaders often put profit before humanity. Sound business policy was to pay workers too little to survive, as a lethal poverty prevention measure called the "Iron Law of Wages." Owners could feel virtuous, while they reduced the surplus population (in the words of Charles Dickens). Early industries, supported by governments, opposed any and all efforts of workers to unionize.
In 1935, the American government finally supported unions with the Wagner Act. While that law and the National Labor Relations Board it created supports unions in name, it creates all sorts of difficulties for unionizers. Meanwhile, governments still often side with corporate interests over the workers.
And now the Supreme Court has dismissed a class action suit against Wal-Mart, further preventing workers from acting together for their rights, even without unions.
Maybe unions are too weak to survive these days. Yet, the wealthy interests of capital should not have a monopoly in the marketplace. Instead, I suggest that workers create a voice using the tools of capitalism.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em! Since the economic and political powers-that-be despise unions, workers should instead incorporate. Then these new worker corporations will sell the services of workers, in turn negotiating, signing, and enforcing contracts, and making profit, for their own benefit.
Ironically, the modern corporation is also a collectivist organization. Governments first created them by law a century and a half ago, as a new way to structure economic enterprises, increasingly replacing the traditional family firms and partnerships. Corporations are artificial people, financed through capital collected by selling stock, run by professional managers, who are, in turn, supervised by a board of directors. Unlike normal human beings, corporations might never die - as long as they continue to make profit, they might exist forever.
What else are corporations but collectives of stockholders and managers who then employ workers to provide goods and services?
I've been inspired by ads I've heard lately proclaiming the advantages of incorporating, even for individuals. Some states, like Wyoming or Delaware, offer ease of incorporation, lack of corporate taxes, and lax regulation and supervision. And we all know how much businesses and the courts respect contracts with other corporations!
I'm not a lawyer, so the incorporation of workers and citizens to better recognize their interests may not be easy or possible. If the current laws allow it, then someone can find a way; if new laws need to be passed, the corporate interests may stop this idea from moving forward.
Either way, I see no alternative to the growing dominance of American society by the wealthy and well-connected armed with their lawyers and accountants. If our society continues to favor artificial profit-making corporations over quality of life for genuine individual human beings, then only corporations will be our future.
Workers of the world, incorporate! You have nothing to lose, but your humanity. The courts, politicians and businessmen are already taking away your dignity and livelihood, anyhow.
[Brian A. Pavlac is a professor of History at King's College, an Episcopal Priest, and the author of "A Concise Survey of Western Civilization: Supremacies and Diversities throughout History."]
By Bill Lewellis
"Due to declining enrollment and a lack of funding," the story began in today's Republican Herald, "the preschool[Trinity Center for Children] at Trinity Episcopal Church in Pottsville will close June 3."
How sad. In its heyday, TCC's enrollment surpassed 30. Today, 14 children, five full-time and nine part-time, are enrolled, with a staff of four, two full-time and two part-time people.
Sad, indeed, but might we not thank God and many groups and individuals for 20 years of this wonderful ministry.
I thank God for the vision and unselfishness of the lay and clergy leadership of Trinity Episcopal Church who sought back in 1991 to provide quality education and spiritual nurture for children beyond the bounds of their membership, for the Diocese of Bethlehem, the diocesan community's provision of financial and other important resources at TCC's launch and periodically thereafter, for the board volunteers of TCC, often recognized only when criticized, who over the years provided crucial governance, expertise and insight in hiring dedicated staff and keeping the ministry afloat. I thank God for the teachers who have loved the children and for the parents who have appreciated the teachers, the board, the Diocese of Bethlehem and the vision and leadership of Trinity Episcopal Church. Indeed, it took a village to raise 20 years of precious children. Many of us thank you all.
Bill Lewellis, Diocese of Bethlehem, retired
Communication Minister/Editor (1986-2010), Canon Theologian (1998)
By Raymond Harbort
At the “cleansing of the temple” Jesus said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer but you have made it a den of robbers.” I have often wondered if what Jesus was objecting to was, at least in part, the “din of robbers”---the noise made by moneychangers and sellers of animals so that prayer, knowing the presence of the Holy God, was made difficult if not impossible.
There was a time when, as you entered an Episcopal Church (anywhere, of any stripe of churchmanship), you would find quiet. As people gathered for worship they knelt and prayed or they sat in silence. If people found it necessary to speak, they did so in whispers. This silence told you that you were in a holy place, a place set apart for prayer and worship, a place in which God’s Presence could be known. The silence spoke of the congregation’s awareness of the holiness of what they were about to do. And it created a space and time that enabled and encouraged prayer and worship.
There still are parishes where silence before worship is still observed. But, what you find on entering most Episcopal churches today is a “din of robbers”, people chatting----robbing others and themselves of the quiet most of us need to pray. Anyone wanting to pray will find it difficult. (I confess that too often I find myself judging and grumbling to myself about the talkers rather than praying.) Sometimes, admittedly, the conversation is expression of the love we ought to have for one another (words of sympathy or support, inquiry about health, etc.). But couldn’t that wait until after the service or coffee hour? More often it is just chitchat about things like “where we went for dinner last night”. It seems to me that what loving one another should mean as we gather for worship is praying for ourselves and others or being silent so that others can pray.
If what we do during worship is of supreme importance (and it is---for we are seeking to enter into communion with God) then how we come to worship---the heart, soul and mind we bring to worship is of great importance. All of us struggle with distraction in prayer and worship. But if we are chatting and distracted as the service begins we will not be prepared to worship God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength.
I do not know how we got this way---how over the last 20-30 years we seem to have lost this custom of silence in the presence of the holy. Does the atmosphere of “friendly informality” that so many clergy and parishes adopted since the 1960’s and 70’s have something to do with it? Or is it perhaps a tendency to treat the church building as an ordinary place (not “sacred space) except during the times of worship (and, perhaps, sometimes not even then)? Is it that worship has come to be seen as a form of entertainment so that people are inclined to behave beforehand as they would at a concert? I have heard it said that the chatting before the service is a sign of the congregation’s love for one another---and therefore a sign of welcome and hospitality to the newcomer. (Hmm? I wonder if people interrupt their conversations to greet the newcomer? Perhaps.) On the other hand, if the ushers or greeters have exercised the ministry of hospitality at the door, then perhaps, once inside, a reverent silence would be more welcoming? What if a visitor, drawn by the Holy Spirit, came in deep spiritual hunger, seeking God, wanting to pray and couldn’t because of the noise? Yes, if visitors show up, welcome them in a whisper. Help them find their way through the service. And then, when the service is over, invite and escort them to coffee hour and introduce them to the clergy and members of the parish.
I don’t know how we got this way and I’m not sure how we get this counter-productive genie back in the bottle. I, like many others, have tried but have sometimes meet with resentment and little success. If I had it to do over again I think I’d try to enlist the understanding and cooperation of the vestry, parish groups, and those matriarchal/patriarchal pacesetters that everyone follows and who are present in every parish. Over time, by praying or sitting quietly in their pews before the service, their example could change the culture of the parish.
Finally, people not spending the time in prayer before the service raises another concern: have they prepared themselves to receive their Lord in Holy Communion? It is possible (but unlikely) that people have “made their preparation” at home the night before or that morning. More likely, they are coming to Communion having made no preparation whatsoever. When I raised this concern with a friend he replied, “Who can ever be “properly prepared?” True, nothing we can do, no amount of repentance and prayer, can ever make us worthy. It is all grace. But it seems to me that love and reverence bid us to at least make an effort. Preparing for Holy Communion by examination of conscience and prayer is grounded in Paul’s counsel to the Christians in I Cor. 11:28 and has always been part of the tradition. The many devotional manuals of all stripes of churchmanship witness to this as does, most eloquently, the Exhortation in the Prayer Book (p. 316-317). When was it last read in your parish? Maybe it would be a good subject for some preaching and teaching.
Let us pray.
---(The Rev.) Raymond Harbort
Eleanor was married to the recently deceased Harry Hart. They have a son Sean now living in Reading. She also has two stepsons and two Grandsons. She taught in the Twin Valley School District for 25 years.
Eleanor was ordained a Deacon on April 22, 1989, at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Birdsboro after training at St. Gabriel’s in Douglassville. She began volunteering at Rainbow Home a personal care home for people with AIDS. Discerning a call to this ministry she retired from teaching and served as pastoral care at Rainbow Home and was hired by Berks AIDS Network in Reading. This ministry led to ordination to the priesthood in October 1994. During that time she also was associate at Christ Church Reading. At the request of the diocese she trained for interim ministry and served in that capacity in St. Anne’s Trexlertown, St. Mary’s Reading, and St. Thomas Morgantown. She also served as associate at St. Alban’s Sinking Spring and priest-in-charge at St. Barnabas Kutztown. Eight years ago she began her ministry at St. Thomas Church in Morgantown, first as priest-in-charge and then as rector. She has served on the Commission on Ministry and the diocesan AIDS task force.
Through Berks AIDS Network, she ran a support group at Berks County Prison and is now leading Bible Study at New Persons Center in Reading, a transitional housing for men coming out of prison. She intends to continue that ministry after retirement.
A Sermon for Chrism Mass
Diocese of Bethlehem
Cathedral Church of the Nativity
Thursday, April 14, 2011
The Rev. Canon Andrew T. Gerns
There is a little boy that I know who loves gadgets. He loves to learn and understand how they work. He loves to watch them in action. When his family buys a new appliance or tool, he will want to know all about how it works, and think up reasons why he should run the air conditioner with the remote or vacuum something or wash a dirty towel.
Lest you think that this a housekeeping Godsend, every mother’s dream, consider this: he disdains picture books and the usual children’s literature and would much rather read the instruction—or better yet, the service—manuals for all these contraptions. Out loud. Right now.
He especially loves the troubleshooting guides in those manuals. And when you try to distract him from his need to tell you or any of his siblings in graphic detail all the possible solutions to any potential problem by saying something like “when something happens, you will be the first person I call” he will say to you in all seriousness “But if you wait until it’s broken, it will be too late.”
Don’t ask me why, but I really identify with this kid…and not just because I am A-V kid emeritus. I really love his enthusiasm when something new, shiny and fascinating comes along. I love that he wants to know how things works…he wants to understand. It is not enough to know what button does what but how each function happens. And I love how he wants to tell everyone about the new gadget in great, energetic, fascinated detail.
This wonderful little boy and the family he inhabits dramatize a truth about Christian community. When we “get” something, we want everyone to “get it”. And when we have found what works we want to understand and manage it.
Three Pastors Gaeta, all ELCA Lutheran Pastors, led worship recently at St. Mary's Wind Gap and St. Joseph's Pen Argyl to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ordination of the Rev. Jane Gaeta (center). The Rev. Gerard Gaeta preached. The Rev. Sue Gaeta served as Eucharistic Minister. Jane presided at the Eucharist.
Jane serves as priest-in-charge at Wind Gap and Pen Argyl. Gerard serves as interim at Christ Church Stroudsburg. Sue serves as development director at the Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Washington, DC.
Deacon Lorraine Cusick (Long Island NY Episcopal Diocese), a former student of Jane, served as deacon at both worship services.
A covered dish luncheon prepared by both churches followed at St. Mary's.
Two former confimation students from near Gettysburg, families from New Jersey and Sinking Spring and seven people from the Chinese Church in Brooklyn participated. (Jane served a brief interim there. She said she would preach a few lines that were then translated into Chinese.) The Liturgy was simultaneously bi-lingual.) One of the pictures shows three of the guests playing their Chinese instruments.
A deacon from Long Island NY (ELCA) was a very special guest. Both Jane and Gerard taught him. He had to leave his home and family in Iran when he felt the call to be baptized.
The Rev. Canon Ginny Rex Day, the Rev. Charles Day, the Rev. Nicholas Albanese and the Rev. Canon Cliff Carr joined in the celebration.
A sermon preached by the Rev. Raymond Harbort
at the Eucharist at diocesan Clergy Retreat
on September 28, 2010. (Propers, Ministry III)
As I stand before you, the phrase “preaching to the choir” comes to mind.
You’ve probably heard all this before. It’s not original. But as my tutor back in the Paleolithic at General Seminary remarked as we were fussing over our sermons, “Never mind trying to be original. If it’s original, it’s probably heresy.”
Our passage from First Peter begins “The end of all things is near. therefore…” Then follows a series of exhortations for the church: “discipline yourselves for prayer…..maintain constant love among yourselves……be hospitable without complaining….serve, speak….with the strength that God supplies, that God may be glorified in all things. (I Peter 4:7-11) Exhortations for the church----and so for us who have been called and ordained to serve and to be examples to the flock. These things and all we promised to do at our ordination.
Two Episcopalians were comparing notes. One said, “Our rector’s sermons are like the peace of God. They pass all understanding.” The other said, “Our rector’s sermons are like the grace of God----never-ending.” “The end of all things is near.”
But in parish ministry, the end of all the things you have to do is never near. It is never-ending—like the grace of God that that upholds and enfolds and empowers us.
27 September 2010
Rev. Bill McGinty
Today is the feast of Vincent de Paul. It speaks volumes about the life of Vincent that on this 27th day of September he is honored by catholic and Protestant alike. He lived in a 17th century world of class division; religious wars and the chasm between rich and poor; Vincent bridged them all so well, that his name is forever associated with ministering to the poor and with charitable causes.
Vincent was the personification of the Gospel mandate we find in the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. His whole life was an energized proclamation of Jesus Christ in word and action. In all his dealings with the poor Vincent did not seek to convert or bring them to Christ by preaching or teaching alone. Rather he brought them to Christ by becoming Christ for them. He bandaged up their sores, comforted them in dying, and nursed them through cholera and disease of every kind. The poor were touched by the presence of God that surrounded him; the tender mercies he administered to them; and the humility he exhibited at the gift of life and grace he found in them.
There is something here we all recognize. We have seen it in Gandhi, Mother Teresa; Albert Scheitzer and Mandela. It is a humanity and compassion for the human condition in the worse of times and in its struggle to survive. Vincent de Paul had that compassion; it was born of the Gospel within him and his own humble beginning.
Published in The Morning Call
September 18, 2010
Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) never liked jazz because it doesn't resolve.
One night he listened for 15 minutes to a man on the street play the saxophone without opening his eyes. "Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way. I used to not like God because God didn't resolve."
God doesn't resolve. Intransitive. It's not about resolving problems, also problematic. Godself isn't resolvable.
Throughout our lives, God remains a question rather than an answer. Some say mystery. As we pursue the mystery, however, our questions about God do resolve into questions about ourselves, more embraceable questions.
If you tune into All Things Considered on WDIY 88.1, public radio in the Lehigh Valley, on Tuesdays, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., you will hear Diocese of Bethlehem Episcopal priest T. Scott Allen during the breaks. Scott chooses the local news to read "from a stack of stories other folks have written and prepared. I make the decision which ones I want to read and try and get a spread of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton/Phillipsburg news since our listeners are primarily in those towns."
DIY stands for "Do it yourself." Scott has been a volunteer for nearly three years. He quips about being "both a volunteer and an on air host---like a priest who is also a deacon."
Scott is rector of St. Andrew's Allentown/Bethlehem and serves on several diocesan committees.Folks who are out of radio range can tune in on their computers here, www.wdiy.org.
"The NPR satellite feed has scheduled breaks when I play local adverts and give news, weather, traffic and time," Scott says. "My favorite traffic report was last Spring when I had to tell folks that cows who had broken through their fence were lounging on 309 and causing a traffic back up. It was hard not to laugh while reporting that."
[An excerpt from the message of the rector, Mother Trula Hollywood, in the January issue of Trinity Times, the newsletter of Trinity Athens]
Our outreach efforts in the last year have been quite successful. Our clothing, food and toy drives were very helpful to many people in the community. These efforts gave many of us an opportunity to meet people we may not have otherwise. In that sense, the experience was very rewarding. In another sense, the experiences served as an eye opener to the poverty in our area. ...
We have plans in 2010 to offer outreach from our smallness. We are going to use the parish hall for AA meetings and possibly for a support group for woman in crisis. We have also increased our food pantry giving. I hope that we can continue our current efforts at meeting needs in the community into this new year and beyond.
We are on a journey together. Many of us have faced poverty in our own lives. I know from my own experience how much stress is involved when the utility companies are threatening to shut off the heat or it is questionable where the next meal will come from, or whether there will be enough money to pay the medical bills.
Many people are faced with making choices between medical care, food or heat. It is a scary place to be and no one chooses to be there. Circumstances in life bring us to places where survival is the main focus.
[More at www.trinityathens.org]
By Andrew Gerns
If your New Year’s resolutions are at all like mine, then these are resolves that are filled with hope and good intentions that soon fall hard to reality. I know I should eat less and exercise more, but somehow I always manage to get these two backwards. And, two weeks into the New Year, I know that many of my best intentions already a by-gone memory.
Just the same, I know that there are things in my life that I would like to do better. These are behaviors that one just cannot will to make better, but really need to be cultivated into a habit. And I am not just talking about the usual vices; I am also talking about the spiritual life.
Once upon two millennia in the town of Nazareth lived a restless teenager named Jesus. His mother, Mary, took him to a monastery, to a monk who had a reputation as a good counselor. “Why are you so restless?” the monk asked. “God is troubling me,” Jesus answered. "I wonder about many things, about what I need to do. I don't yet know why, but I feel I will."
The monk suggested that Mary allow Jesus to stay for a while at the monastery where he eventually convinced Jesus that this was not the voice of God, that God would not trouble a young man with wild, though apparently holy, thoughts. The monk prevailed and returned Jesus to Mary. Jesus returned with Mary to Nazareth where he lived a relatively successful life as a carpenter -- and died of old age. End of story.
I heard the story some 30 years ago from an old friend, a perceptive journalist who heard a version of the story from the activist peacemaking Jesuit Daniel Berrigan.
Among my old files is a column, Mysterious Freedoms and a Wild Holy. My friend –– let’s call him Tom –– wrote it in 1978 for a Lehigh Valley newspaper. He admired Berrigan as a person whose social activism was grounded in a discipline of prayer and meditation.
Berrigan's boiled down position, Tom wrote, is that "Christian communities should stand as signs of contradiction in any age. If they don't, then either the kingdom promised is here in all its fulfillment or we're doing something wrong … We live at the intersection of very mysterious freedoms, God's and our own."
"Never did those freedoms brush against each other more intimately," Tom concluded, "than with the life of that wild holy that began 2,000 years ago in another Bethlehem.”
Retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, another disciplined activist, has said that spirituality is not about defining God or about self-improvement. Rather, it is about understanding the corporate life of Christianity in which all that we are given is for the sake of others.
We don't care about some things that are removed from our experience. We don't recognize other things that are close to us. We look them dead in the eye without seeing them. In both instances, something stands in the way: an idea, an ideology a learned prejudice, perhaps a belief, perhaps some stubbornness.
It's a matter of perspective and perception. If we push a few words together, GODISNOWHERE, some of us will first read "God is nowhere" while others will read "God is now here." Don't take it to heart. It's more fun than significant. Few of us see both realities at once.
We use filters to interpret both the near and far. We wear blinders to which we are blind. We put ourselves in the most secure prisons, those of our own
making that we don’t now we’re in. We need to see things differently, beyond the filters, beyond our horizons, with the assion and peace born of integrity.
May we wonder, about things, about people, about how all we have been given – energy, talent, time, money – has been given for the sake of God's remedy, the kingdom. May we wonder about how God's remedy begins in our hearts, often with a troubling call. May we not tame God's call simply to live relatively successful lives before we die.
All the while, be sure that the God made flesh in the wild holy made us, like him, to wonder.
[Canon Bill Lewellis, a retired Episcopal priest, had been communication minister for the Diocese of Bethlehem, the 14-county Episcopal Church in northeastern Pennsylvania, for the past 24 years.]
Friends in low places
by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
24 December 2009
Herod was King of Judea (1:5, at the annunciation to Zechariah)
while Augustus was Emperor (2:1), but Herod died before Quirinius was governor
of Syria (2:2). Luke has got the facts wrong, but what really is the harm?
The tradition had Jesus’ birth during the reign of Herod (as in Matthew), and
Luke has to get Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem as the birth there is an important
messianic credential. Quirinius was the one who ordered the census. Telling
the story of Jesus compellingly for Luke is a higher priority than scrupulosity
about the facts. And he may not have had all the facts available to him.
[From Bishop Paul] I am happy to announce that after a period of gathering for initial conversations, we once again have a Commission on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. It is comprised of a good number of clergy and lay people from the north and the south of the DIocese. Because this work is so important and because she has put so much time and energy into the efforts so far, I have named the chair of the commission as Canon for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. I know you will want to congratulate the Reverend Canon Maria Tjeltveit on her appointment. Those who attend convention are already familiar with her reports and her dedicated work on the dialogue with the Moravians. One of the Commission's tasks is to keep us educated and motivated in these matters, so with you I look forward to hearing from them. Blessings, +Paul
When conferred upon clergy in the Episcopal Church, canon is commonly regarded as an honorific similar to monsignor in the Roman Catholic Church. The title is usually given in recognition of position, significant service or achievement. Canon Maria W. E. Tjeltveit has been rector of the Church of the Mediator, Allentown, since September 1, 1999. (Her first name is pronounced "Mariah" and her last name is pronounced "Chelt vate".) Maria is a member of the Moravian-Episcopal dialogue on the national level and is active in Jewish-Christian and Muslim-Christian dialogue. She is Ecumenical and Interfaith Officer for the Diocese of Bethlehem. She graduated from Swarthmore College and the Berkeley/Yale Divinity School. Before coming to Mediator, she served at St. Matthew'sChurch in Charleston, West Virginia; St Paul's Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia; and St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Harrington Park, New Jersey. Maria, her husband Dr. Alan Tjeltveit, who is a Professor in Psychology at Muhlenberg College, and their children, William and Anna, live in Allentown.