Friday, November 25 2022
“In Search of our Kneeling Places.” by Ann Weems
In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
an inn where we must ultimately answer
Whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
We experience our own advent in his.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
We can no longer look the other way
Conveniently not seeing the stars
Not hearing angel voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
Tending our sheep or our kingdoms.
This advent let’s go to Bethlehem
And see this thing that the Lord has made known to us.
In the midst of shopping sprees
Let’s ponder in our hearts the Gift of Gifts.
Through the tinsel
Let’s look for the gold of the Christmas star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos,
This Advent, let’s go to Bethlehem
And find our kneeling places.
In the Advent season, we wait in joyous expectation for the birth of Christ. We shift our attention from worrying about the problems that face us to a crude manger in Bethlehem, where all of God’s promises are fulfilled. We shift from thinking about scarcity to the abundance that we have from God. Please take time to relax in this busy season and journey with all of us at St. John’s to Bethlehem.
Some see the Coming of God as a time of trial when folks were swept away by the waters of the flood or when they will be left behind on the field. I see the coming of Jesus as an achievement of perfect love. My expectation for all of you is that you will feel a love so deep you could scarcely even imagine it. Perhaps until then, you will turn from the notion of penalty and punishment to the hope of everlasting love with our Lord. “How very little can be done under the spirit of fear” Florence Nightingale once said. It is for this reason that we have changed our color from purple to blue. Purple is the color of a penitential season when we try to stop sinning. It is a very masculine perspective that the threat of punishment will get us to behave. Blue is the color of hope. We turn (despite the darkness) to the eternal love of God. In this season of hope we will look to feminine perspectives of motivation through and towards love. Advent is a time when we love each other as Christ loves us. It is a time when we remember those who we love by giving them our kindness and attention. Please take the time to visit with your family, co-workers, and friends. Advent is a time when we give of ourselves to others as Christ gave of himself to us. We bring about the coming of the kingdom of God by looking beyond ourselves. We pray for one another and help the poor and needy where we can. I ask each member of St. John’s to draw closer to the love of God in the coming year.
In Christ’s love,
Friday, November 18 2022
Feast of Christ the King
Sunday, November 20, 2022
This Sunday, the Church celebrates the Feast of Christ the King.
The history of this special feast is relatively young – going back to 1925, shortly after the end of World War I. Pope Pius noted that even as the world was no longer at war, there was no true peace. He abhorred the rise of class divisions and nationalism and contended that true peace could only be found under the Kingship of Christ as our ”Prince of Peace.” His hope was that nations would begin to see that the Church has the right to freedom and immunity from the state, that leaders of those nations would begin to show respect to Christ, and that the faithful communities would be strengthened and encouraged from celebrations of this feast. Pius wanted this feast to inspire the laity when he said, “The faithful, … by meditating upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal… He must reign in our minds…in our wills…in our hearts… in our bodies and in our members which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.”
Given the state of the world today, it still seems like a sound feast to observe and to ponder.
What is the nature of true Kingship?
The celebration of the Feast of Christ the King became a part of the Episcopal liturgy in the 1990’s as we adopted the use of the Revised Common Lectionary. It is the culmination of our Church’s liturgical year, the end of ordinary time, during which we journeyed with Christ through the gospel of Luke and have now arrived at the crucifixion. In one short week, we begin Advent climaxing in the birth of Christ. But this Sunday, we have liturgically arrived with Luke, to Good Friday. We worship a crucified king – a gentle but focused man whose life was lived in nonviolence – a man who dedicated himself to healing and feeding the poor, lost and disenfranchised. What does it mean to worship the One who died nonviolently on the cross and offers forgiveness, not vengeance?
What kind of King is Jesus?
Jesus taught us to trust in a loving and merciful Father and to pray to Him for all our needs. We are precious children of one heavenly Father so we have been called to treat one another with love, respect, and forgiveness. Jesus lived what he taught by caring for all those he met by healing the sick – a sign of God’s love at work; and by forgiving those who put him to death.
As the Good Shepherd, Jesus gathers us in – leaving none behind. He is willing to speak truth to power and his shepherding encourages us to lay our burdens down and come to him for rest.
As we proclaim Jesus as our King, we at St. John’s have been called to follow him, to identify with him, to make him the center of our lives, extending our loving ‘Jesus’ arms to all we encounter – whether in our sanctuary, on our city streets or in the margins of our world.
In Christ’s love,
Friday, November 11 2022
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This is the collect for our coming week, Proper 28, starting this Sunday. I mentioned a few weeks back that my favorite collect is from Proper 22 (early October). I can believe this is one of Bishop Provenzano’s favorite collects, as I’ve heard our bishop quote this collect time and time again – and it’s a good line: to “hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” scripture. As we are preparing for the season of Advent, we have a couple of themed weekends before we start preparing for the birth of Jesus. As Fr. Duncan mentioned in this past weekend’s services, last week was Loyalty Sunday. Loyalty Sunday is where our parish family is invited to pledge a financial gift to the parish, so our vestry (governing body) is able to create a budget for this next year. FYI - there is still time to get in your pledge cards!
One article I read regarding this Sunday’s lectionary readings called this Sunday Bible Sunday. As a prayer book people, I think we Episcopalians sometimes shy away from the good book. This Sunday’s collect ties us to scripture, but we don’t know or truly recognize how much scripture affects our liturgy. Our Confession, Prayers of the People, and Eucharistic Prayers, all reference portions of scripture that tie us to the Bible.
This week’s collect drives home the importance of scriptural repetition. We hear scripture every Sunday. We have four readings from scripture proclaimed: two Old Testament readings and two New Testament readings. We hear from the time of the prophets before Christ and we hear a psalm from King David, singing of God’s glory or lamenting life on this fragile earth, our island home. We also hear from the epistles – one of Paul’s letters or the Acts of the Apostles, and a Gospel reading which focuses on the life of Jesus of Nazareth. A majority of the Bible is read in a three-year cycle we call the lectionary, that we share with our sister churches. All Episcopal Churches, in addition to other mainline denominations like the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Roman Catholics, the Presbyterians follow this common lectionary for the most part as well.
As a prayer book people, meaning that we use the Book of Common Prayer, we have access to the Daily Office. The Daily Office is an opportunity for all of us to read the prayers of the church and pray for others in our community daily – like the monks and nuns of old. Clergy promise to read the holy scriptures and pray for those who have asked for prayer, especially within our church family. A group of us gather to pray together every weekday at 9:00am (lay people from our parish community and our clergy). It is not a commitment that one needs to promise to – we have people who join for a period and then leave. We offer the opportunity to those who would like to learn how to pray the Daily Office and join us in reading scripture because we know it is important for us to know about our spiritual roots.
Mark – not the evangelist St. Mark, but mark as in taking notes – mark up your Bible! Marking your Bible is something us seminarians did to understand scripture and remember what our professors taught us. It is a task for all who study the Bible – either with our parish community or on your own. Bible Study is an opportunity for those who want to dig deeper into knowing our spiritual roots. Mark goes hand-in-hand with learn which is the follow-up of marking. Learning more about the Bible can be done in community like at our Bible studies on Monday nights and Tuesday mornings, but also on one’s own. Lectio Devina is a spiritual practice of reading the Bible by marking and learning the parts that God calls you to focus on whether in community or on your own.
The last term that draws my attention is the inwardly digest. It is a slightly graphic image to think of an illustration of one digesting anything, but the analogy remains: the breaking down of scripture and taking in the spiritual nutrients that God needs us to take in.
This is all a process. We start with easy steps of hearing and reading, which we do regularly on Sundays. I invite us all to go deeper into our faith – marking, learning, and inwardly digesting the word of God – the good news of Jesus Christ. Let us meditate on our commitment to scripture and pray on how we can go one step deeper this upcoming Advent season of hope – which our collect points us to. God wants to know us. We need to know God as well.
Your sibling in Christ,
Friday, November 04 2022
Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:20-21).
“Jesus had a soft spot for the poor. It might be fair to say, he preferred the poor. Poverty exists everywhere, you needn’t go to a “developing nation” to find it. It’s down your block. Don’t think so? You’re likely not looking hard enough. Here, Jesus challenges us to look. Because he tells the poor, the hungry, I see you, and yours is coming. Our calling as Christians is to live life generously. And not for our own desires, or those of our immediate circle, but for those on the fringes. Think of the good that could grow if we died to self a little more, and wholeheartedly embraced the work that Jesus has given us to do. Do you see the Holy Spirit in the faces of the poor?” (Sam Messer, More Than Enough)
Today is All Saints Sunday when we join with saints and all the company of heaven. The Celts would call this Sunday a thin place when the temporal and eternal are very close. The faithful gather together to remember those whom we love, but see no longer. We especially remember those who touched our hearts and touched the hearts of others with the love of God. When we play “For all the Saints” I always get very sentimental for Janet, Joyce, Wally, Ruth, Ginny, Ida, Bob, Frank, Clara, Don, Bev, Bruce, Mildred, and a whole host of others. Some of you go back to the generation before that in this church. We have this beautiful church and all our ministries and traditions because they gave themselves to Christ when they were here. I invite you to light a candle in their honor after you have communion today. There is no doubt that many saints have walked through the doors at St. John’s. We remember them in our prayers and through the life and ministry that we live. Many of the programs that we support have been going on for decades. I believe that our loved ones look down at us with a smile when we are a blessing to others. We also thank the saints of the Christian Church – women and men whose witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ has been a blessing in every generation. We celebrate all who have been baptized in this church with the mark of the promised Holy Spirit and all those who have served here. We celebrate all their lives and their generosity that allows our generation to praise and worship our Lord in this beautiful church. Mother Teresa said that we all can’t do great things, but we can do small things with great love. Our ordinary acts of love bring the Kingdom of Heaven closer to Earth. St Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:1 that we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. Saints are faithful men and women who have lived their lives for the sake of others. Paul asks us to persevere, so that after we have done God's will, we will receive what God has promised.
Today is Loyalty Sunday. Our vestry asks you to do your part by filling out a pledge card and sending it to the office or place it in the plate on Sunday. Give of your time, talent and treasure to God because you truly believe that Christ died that you might have abundant life. When a heart is filled with the love of God, the desire to give a portion back comes from deep within, not from a rational sense of obligation. We use the gifts that God has given us to do the work God is calling us to do. God will never ask you to do anything unless God provides the means for you to do it. Give from your heart and St. John’s will serve this community with generosity as we have for the past 277 years. Please give joyfully and graciously from your heart. God is well pleased when we give in this manner and will provide everything we need to do the work that God calls us to do.
In Christ’s love,
Rev. Duncan Burns