Friday, September 25 2020
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians10-13)
In bible study this week, we studied the profile and praxis of a prophet. N.T. Wright tells us that “if we are to follow Jesus as Lord, we must know more about the one we are to follow.” Jesus says in the temple, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1). Jesus explains the coming of the Kingdom of God through parables and more importantly, shows us what the Kingdom of God looks like by his actions. N.T. Wright says, “What Jesus was to Israel, the church must now be for the world.”
In today’s Gospel, we hear, “a man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go” (Matthew 21:28-30). Like the second son in the Gospel, many of us in the church want to do the right thing, but often we just get distracted. There are many factors to distract us today. If only one good thing comes out of this pandemic for you, I hope it is a rekindling of your faith in Jesus Christ. God brings us from bondage into freedom, from sin into righteousness, and from death into life.
You can bring the Good News to others by proclaiming that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Our church can bind up the brokenhearted by visiting one another or calling each other on the phone. Invite those you do not see on Sunday back to church again either on zoom, Facebook Live, or in person. We can proclaim liberty and release by letting our friends know that they are loved by God and forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ. We can clothe the naked by sending items from our Thrift Shop to Central Islip. We can feed the hungry by donating rice, beans, pasta, and other items to the local food pantry. We are bringing racial reconciliation and social justice through our Sacred Ground Program. Most of all, we can work together for our Harvest Fair on October 24, 2020. Please participate in any way you can. Buy raffle tickets, make a raffle basket, donate an auction item, volunteer to mark some white elephant items, or just pray that we will be able to support local charities and this church’s ministries as we have in the past. This COVID pandemic has made life and business very difficult for many of us in our community. Let us each do what we can to help one another get through it. Jesus taught us that if we share a little of what we have, there will be plenty for everyone. Jesus also taught us to love God and our neighbor. Loving everyone is difficult, but possible through the grace of God.
I give thanksgiving for Jesus Christ, who taught us to love one another as God loves us. I give thanksgiving for Coral, Claire, Fr. John, Jen, Alex, our nursery school teachers, and all our parishioners at St. John’s. I give thanks to all our parishioners, thanks to the ECW and Chris Boccia, thanks to Spirituality and Patti Aliperti, thanks to the Thrift Shop and Nancy Feustel, thanks for Laundry Love and Sue Cronje, thanks to Huntington Rapid Response, thanks to Racial Reconciliation and Social Justice and Heather Kress and Pat Ahmad, thanks to Sacred Ground and Bill Kiley, thanks for EFM and Leslie Valentine, thanks for Bible Study and Fr. John Morrison, thanks for St. Hilda’s Guild and Janice Burnett, thanks for Morning Prayer and Earl Matchett and Claire, thanks to the vestry and wardens, and thanks to Samantha Burns and Barbara Burns.
In Christ’s love,
Friday, September 18 2020
On the surface, today’s Gospel is about fairness. The landowner hires workers early in the morning and agrees to pay them a full day’s wage. He goes back in the early morning and hires more workers. At midday and in the afternoon he hires more workers. Even at the eleventh hour, he hires more workers. The landowner asks the steward to pay all the workers the same wage beginning with the ones that only worked for an hour. When the steward finally began to pay the ones who had worked all day, they were fuming mad. The fact is that we can be easily annoyed with trivial matters that we deem as unfair. Jesus gives us a prime example. The laborers in today’s Gospel got paid one day’s work, regardless of how long they worked. Those workers who worked the longest earned a fair wage, but they were upset by what the others received.
God turns our world upside down. Jesus is creating a community where the last are first and the first are last. The world isn’t fair and maybe God helps to even things out a little. Have you ever felt God’s generosity when it is unearned and undeserved? When the generosity of God exceeds our expectations, we are surprised in a way that fills our heart with the peace that passes all understanding.
When you understand life to be an incredible gift, God’s grace and mercy flows over us like a river. Jesus is teaching parables that turn our world upside down. Suddenly, everyone is eligible for God’s love! It is no longer just the outwardly religious folks that find God’s favor.. The workers that were hired late in the day might have needed money to buy food for their families. When they received their pay at the end of the day, they must have been elated. “Maybe this is the break I have been waiting for,” says the unemployed person trying to get back in the work force. “Finally,” says the child that is back at school with their friends. Someone shows up with cases of water after a wildfire because someone half way around the world heard their cry while praying to God. Someone remembers those essential workers that have served our needs right through this pandemic. We remember those who gave their lives on 9/11 and pray for those who put their lives on the line for our safety.
Have you ever felt blessed by God? When we receive our fair wage it feels right, but when we receive more than we deserve, it is a blessing from God. I give to this church because God has blessed me in so many ways. I receive blessing upon blessing. They just keep coming. I am blessed by my beautiful children, my lovely wife, my mom, my brothers, my friends, by our Morning Prayer group, for my home in this wonderful town, and by the ministry of St. John’s. The list goes on and on for me. I love my ministry and my call to St. John’s. Today is my sixth anniversary of serving at St. John’s. The year 2020 has been tough for all of us, but I believe that God will get us through it. We will begin Eucharist in October and slowly and safely, we will get back to church. I pray that God will bless me with many more years of service at St. John’s. Please join me in giving praise and thanksgiving to God every Sunday. We have an outdoor service at 8AM. We have an indoor service at 11AM. There is an 8 AM zoom Morning Prayer and a 9:15 zoom Morning Prayer with incredible music. If you have not joined the M-F Morning Prayer community at 9 AM, I highly recommend this service of praise and prayer. If you have been away for the summer we invite you back. If you are new, we invite you to be a part of our community. We are blessed at St. John’s and God calls us all to be a blessing to each other.
In Christ’s love,
Sunday, September 13 2020
In August of 2014, Susan and I sat in the packed church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Oxford and listened raptly to Baroness Caroline Cox speak about the persecuted church and the forgiveness extended by those persecuted to those who tormented them, sometimes to the point of martyrdom. Rather than comment, I will let these brief synopses speak for themselves and I hope that the witness will compel us to come to grips from within, not just as theory but in practice, with our Lord's command to forgive those who sin against us as we have been forgiven.
On the night before he was murdered, Martin Luther King, Jr. preached his “I have been to the mountain top” sermon.” His last words were “I have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” The Rev. Fleming Rutledge preached on Dr. King with these words: “It was not human happiness that he felt. It was not human hope that he held. It was not human promises that he trusted. It was God that he trusted, the God who makes a way out of no way. He trusted that God's glory would be shown forth in his weakness as he 'shared in the sufferings of Christ.'”
In October 2000, 21 year old Pastor Liu Haitao was beaten to death by the police in Henan province, China.
As he died, suffering injuries from torture, as well as denial of medical treatment, he told his mother: “Mum, I am very happy, I am fine. Just persist in our belief and follow him to the end. I am going now, Mum. Pray for me.” His final word before he died was a very weak, but unmistakable 'Amen.'
In the historic Armenian land of Nagorno Karabakh, Baroness Cox met a man who had vowed revenge for the death of a child, but when the opportunity arose he broke his vow. An American responded by saying that for the first time he understood what was meant by “Vengeance is mine saith the Lord”; thank you for the dignity you have shown.” The man responded, “Dignity is a crown of thorns,”
In Jos, Nigeria, the Most Reverend Benjamin Kwashi was away from home when militants came to kill him so instead they brutalized one of his sons and his wife. After visiting his wife in hospital he wrote that “we praised God that we had been found worthy to suffer for his kingdom; and we prayed that all Gloria's pain, humiliation, and anguish would be used for his kingdom, his glory, and the strength of his church.” Then he gave this challenge to the wider Christian Church: “If we have a faith worth living for, it is a faith worth dying for. Do not you in the West compromise the faith for which we are living and dying.”
Finally, the following poem, written by David Aziz, is a chilling illustration of “faith and forgiveness which shines like a light in the darkness.” The poem was published in a pamphlet entitled The Coptic Christmas Eve Massacre: A Youth Perspective—Please God, be our Guide, You decide/You are there as I die and my mother cries./I was looking forward to the fata,/But now I'm getting colder and wetter./l lie on this blood-stained road,/With my lifeless body on show,/I wanna be free, I wanna be free,/I wanna be free from this body, ye/I wanna be free, let my spirit roam free,/Lord please receive my spirit from within me,/I am filled with lead but I survive,/And though I am dead I am still alive,/I don't hate those who shot me so please don't be bitter (bold mine),/'Cos life with Christ is much better./But this is for the best,/When your faith is put to the test,/But it's all over now and I rest,/I said it's all over now and I rest,/...I can rest.
There are many other illustrations in Baroness Cox's little book The Very Stones Cry Out and, in its own way, each story cries out: How ready am I to respond to my Lord's command to forgive? How ready are you?
Sunday, September 06 2020