31 March 2006

Looks do Count

Today two events happened that solidified, for me, the age old truth that looks do count and matter.

First, this morning I received a call that a parishoner was in the hospital. I cleaned up, put my black suit and tab collar shirt on and went to the hospital. Note for this story: Rhode Island is 60% RCC. I approached the front door of the hospital, security guard opened the door for me and said hello father. Before I even arrived to the main desk to inquire the room number of the patient the gal already had my parking validation sticker ready. Looks count? A normal trip to this hospital, when I wear a business suit, is the exact opposite. No one opens the door and the folk at the front desk ask to see credentials. When in Rome (RI), dress as the Romans, Catholics that is, do!

Second, being the start of Spring it is time for the annual father and son trip to the barber for a buzz cut. The boy really looks cute. When we got home the wife tells me how her tolerance level for the boy severely drops when the boy has a buzz cut; she says he transforms from a cute mop top toddler to a mean little thing.

Looks do count.

27 March 2006

March 26, 2006 Sermon

The sermon on Sunday seemed to be well received. It was a tough sermon to write - so much to say while limiting myself to around 1200 words. I was editing the sermon right up to the time of preaching with a red pencil.

This sermon series has been lots of fun for me, I enjoy the task of wrestling with some large ideas and trying make a sermon out of them.

Below is a version, the closest from Sunday morning that I can figure.

If You Want God to…Do Likewise
Fourth Sunday in Lent - March 26, 2006
Text: “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12)

Jesus took the time to teach and model to his disciples how to pray. It is a prayer that the Christian Church grabbed onto with great fervor and has yet to let go of it. Every week millions and perhaps a billion pray this prayer; many even feel that a worship service just isn’t a worship service without it. We call it the Lord’s Prayer because Jesus our Lord gave it to us, but in reality it is not a prayer for Jesus to pray, it is a prayer for Disciples, us, to pray. The prayer is a prayer that expresses the essentials of Christianity and teaches us the way of life Christ desires for us.

The prayer is part of Jesus’ great teaching moment that we call the Sermon on the Mount, a sermon that is neither full of new nor novel religious concepts but of ancient and well known teachings with long histories. The originality lies in Jesus’s creative genius, his ability to translate the preserved truths inlight of the always but coming kingdom of God. This morning Jesus offers 12 simple words on forgiveness: forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

Forgiveness, we all have problems with this practice and action. The problems are so compound and perplexing that we have before us not a powerful, passionate, justice working, grace filled practice but one that has not bite or bark. We are left with a limp discipling practice that we practice with our tails stuck between our legs. People define our practice of forgiveness for us: they say that we are Christians, we are supposed to forgive and are therefore obliged to let everyone walk all over us.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Why do you think that Jesus felt it was so important to incorporate forgiveness as essential to following him? If we are to be a new version of a holy and separate people fully living in the world as a light to the nations as bearers of good news how can we do this if we do not practice forgiveness? How can we herald good news unless we practice some good news ourselves? How can we be a true, intentional, and beloved community unless we forgive? More to the point how can we feast on God’s forgiveness if we turn others away from the table?

Maybe we have a hard time with forgiveness because there are no reference points in our contemporary life. We cannot look to our judicial system; it is based on punishment not forgiveness. We cannot look to our economic system; it is based on debt. We cannot look to our political system; it is based on specific gains for a specific group of people. We cannot look to our educational system; there is no curriculum of forgiveness. Our true source has to emerge from our ongoing religious tradition; the way of life of Jesus the Christ. When it comes to forgiveness we have to go into business for ourselves. If we look outside our own source we have nothing but a definition that others have defined. Others have defined forgiveness for us and the definitions they offer are neither appealing nor virtious and certainly do not contain any morsels of good news.
There is a way of defining Christianity by called the apophatic way where you define something by describing what it is not in a manner to peel away to get to the core of something. Lemme try this with forgiveness.

Forgiveness as mandated by Christ is not easy! Forgiveness as called for by Jesus is not instant; it may take weeks, months or years before we are ready to forgive someone. Forgiveness as taught by our Savior is not passive; it is the active work of incorporating the offense against us into our own life, making that story our storyu, “and by owning it we destroy its power to divide forgiver from forgiven.” Forgivness is not forgetting; it is a special kind of remembrance of seeing the offender, regardless of the severity of the offense, still as a child of God; forgiveness is the knowledge that I and the offender are one. Forgiveness is not manipulation like when an alcoholic of spousal abuser says that was the last time, forgive me, then goes right on committing the offense; forgiveness is the acceptance of the true spirit of change, repentance and transformation of others; forgiveness cannot happen until some form of change happens.

Forgiveness is an intense practice, a gift given to us by Christ for us to share with each other and with the world.

Forgiveness is a gift for true community. It is a key towards our wholeness and perfection. But how do we do it?

Roberta Bondi in her book To Pray and To Love offers four ways on how to forgive.

First, and often the hardest, we must want to forgive. Sometimes the sensation will emerge soon, others may take weeks, months or years.
Second, we need to pray to understand, if possible, the pain and brokenness of our wounders. Why did those two boys led me out into the yard to kick me? What would make two older boys want to do such an act? Are there any clues my imagination can provide? Can I put myself in their shoes? This does not excuse their actions, but it is a part of the journey of forgiveness.
Third, we can pray for help to see the consequences to others as well as ourselves of our lcak of forgivness. What is the overall value of nursing a lifelong grudge with an offender? How is my refusal to forgive affecting my current relationships; am I missing our of greater communion with God and with others? On a basic level is my desire to withhold forgiveness affecting my physical, emotional and mental health?
Finally, we can and we must pray every day for the well being of our injurers. Christ challenged us to live as if the kingdom of God is fully present, where we don’t match evil for evil but pray for and love our enemies. This is not easily accomplished, by actively praying for our souls to be tenderized we hope that the gift of God’s grace to forgive us of our debts, trespasses and sins will enable us to forgive others.

Discipleship is a re-learning of how to be a human being in a repaired relationship with God, it is not natural or easy. But if we merge onto the way of Christ and yield our wills we have the bountiful life, centered in grace, love, forgiveness, peace, joy blessing, salvation.

The good news is that we are freely forgiven. The tough news is that we have to also forgive as our Father in heaven has forgiven, is forgiving and will forgive us.

23 March 2006

A Bit of Daughter Wisdom

Yesterday morning the girl came in and told her mother that she did not want to play with her brother anymore if he hits her every time she takes toys away from him.

Is Corned Beef the Proper Way to Honor Patrick?

Last week the church had their annual corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots and soda bread dinner; it sold out! I reluctantly go, because I am the pastor. I love beef, carrots, potatoes, and cabbage but the combination of them in the manner that is served is another story. The dinner was Saturday night. So think about the smell of cooked cabbage percolating throughout our building. Then imagine a jolly pastor coming in Sunday morning at 8:00am with a cup of coffee and a piece of banana bread. Then imagine this pastor unlocking the door and being attacked by a massive wave of cooked cabbage odor - not a pleasant experience. Believe me Anglicans do not have a cabbage scented incense for their services, and there is a reason why.

21 March 2006

The Church in Lent

Sun Movements

Yesterday at sundown I took a picture of the setting sun. At the winter solstice the sun set to the left of my neighbors house, yesterday it was to the right of his house and almost to the right of the first outcrop on the church.


Sometime before 11pm last night I finished Parting the Waters. On the one hand I give myself a pat on the back, on the other hand I still have two more volumes to go! Remarkable account of the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr.

20 March 2006


First day of Spring got off to a rough start: one, it snowed (just a skif); two, still recovering from a cold; three, something or someone knocked the beehive. The first two were no big deal but the bee hive that is another story. The hive boxes were staggered, and the top rock was knocked off. I can only surmise an animal did it, strong one at that or a human. the movement of the boxes makes me think it was an animal. the real kicker is that the weather conditions of last night probably killed the hive, way too cold for them to retain heat with an open hive. but i'll blow some good ole theobilly breath in the hole and see if they react (bees hate the smell of human breath).

At the vernal equinox I took a picture of the setting sun and will do one this evening. I cant believe how great the sun the moved over the horizon, quite amazing. It is hard to notice the movements of sun and moon in our technological age. I would like to learn more about the heavens.

Here is a Robert Frost poem to celebrate the day:

A Prayer in Spring

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

18 March 2006

Adventures in Marriage

The other night the wife and I were having a constructive conversation on who has changed the most during our 8 year marriage. Of course we thought the other had changed more. I described how I think I am a better person because of the wife. She responded that she is a more "tolerant."

Today a local photographer is taking the church's picture for the pictorial directory. We decided to wear our Easter outfits, she matches the girl and I match the boy. The girl picked out the skirts and tops at Old Navy, the boy picked out the material for the bowtie at Joann Fabrics. (the only problem is that the boy's favorite color right now is light blue, he picked out a light sea green blue.) Jump forward to this afternoon. The wife made my bowtie first, I tried it on. I looked like someone applying for Clown College, or as the wife said something Mickey Mouse would wear. Now here is the kicker, the wife knew all along I looked foolish and she tried to make me feel guilty for not wearing it.

14 March 2006

Let Us Now Praise A Famous Chimney

Although for the most part the weekend was fantastic one bit of sadness crept in: I had to put down my charcoal chimney. I bought him in Athens, WV in 2000. He gave me five and a half years of great service but he just couldn't make through another harsh New England Winter. Good bye ole friend I will miss you.

Comfort's Comin'

Soon and very soon we are Spring will come to New England; this weekend we had a foretaste of glory - two sunny and 60 degree days. A crocus bloomed, something green sprouted near our tulips and the bees were out - that's right the bees were out. I had high hopes that they survived the winter and they did. All weekend and yesterday they were out gathering pollen, scouting out stuff and flying around. It was beautiful to see them.

Now I am starting seeds, made my own mix this year of peat moss, vermiculite and perlite, easy to do and better than commercial stuff. The last of the seeds from Cooks Garden will hopefully be in this week. Later on i'll list all my order.

I am also planning the chicken coop and breed of chickens for late spring. Busy time at the parsonage mini farm.

09 March 2006

Unchartered Territory

The other day before worship a woman came up and said one person had suggested that we have Irish Coffee with our St. Patrick's Day Supper. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine an baptist church serving coffee at a supper. Like Rauschy said, "the kingdom is always but coming." (p. 421 Christianity and the Social Crisis)

Due to 1st quarter spiritual growth reports worship takes a 25% cut

About every two weeks or so I go out for coffee with a church member to receive his critique of how things are going at the church. this individual isnt an influential member, on a board or anything - I just happen to like his honesty and approach.

So our discussions have centered on simpligying worship to its essence. Can a worship service be cut back to its essence? I have yet to find what i find as the essence of worship. But I do agree that in worship we were trying to do too many things. So I cut arranged and came up with this:

Sentences from Scripture
Confession of Sins
Prayer for Pardon
The Lord's Prayer
First Lesson
Second Lesson
Lenten Hymn (Make Me a Channel of Your Peace)
The Prayers and the Peace
Prayer Response adaptation of Turn to Me by John Foley, S.J.
Turn to me O Turn and be saved, says the Lord, for I am God;
There is no other, none beside me.
I call your name.
At the Offertory
Doxology No Alleluias in Lent so we have Praise to You by Jennifer L. Anstey
Praise to you, glory and praise;
Lord Jesus Christ!
Praise and honor to the Word of God,
Lord Jesus Christ!

Prayer of Dedication


The other day the wife asked the boy what he would like to name the new baby; without flinching he said Christmas Tree if it is a girl and Backhoe if it is a boy.

All from a kid who isnt even three yet.

The girl wants to name the baby Cinderella, but seems ambivalent about a forming a name if the baby is boy.

06 March 2006

First Monday of Lent

Well it has been four days of lent and I have already just about said ah heck with it when it comes to following the discipline. I always set extremely low expectations for lent, that way I can usually accomplish the goals. But this year all hell seems to have broken loose, meetings, bible studies, seed orders, maple sugaring, finishing a cold frame, vacation planning, and what not. My only discipline is to spend some time each day outside and try to pray the hours, at the very least compline every week.

The sermon from yesterday was lost on the ol' Word program. I got in a hurry and shut off the computer without saving the document. i reckon i could scan it and then post it, well see.

I heard it said that when Howard Thurman preached he preached with his back to the congregation with his hands in the air reaching for the words falling from heaven. I dont know if that is true but it is a wonderful picture.

We took the kids maple sugaring yesterday at this farm. What a great place and what a great activity. I hope to tap some trees this afternoon and have a boiling party this weekend if I can locate a large iron kettle, I'm sure someone around here has one.

02 March 2006

Ash Wednesday Sermon

The Identity of God
Ash Wednesday – March 1, 2006
Exodus 3:6-7; Psalm 51; Matthew 6:1-13
Text: “Our Father, which art in heaven.”

There is a scene in the book of Acts of the Apostle Paul in Athens. He walks to the public square and makes the argument for the God of Christianity using the present raw religious materials of the Greeks. Today as Christians we continue Paul’s method with our own apologetics, arguments for the Christian way.

We cannot, however, begin our argument for God with a claim of exclusivity.
We cannot make our claim that our God is the only god, the best god.
We cannot argue that only we hold the keys to salvation.

These statements will not win souls or convert souls. When faced with this reality many folk throw their hands in the air and say what in the hell are we supposed to do then? If all is relative, if all is shaky without a firm foundation, if there is no divine assurance why and how can we make it?

Relativism has greatly rocked the souls of this world of ours. In a retreat to a safer ship, many have flocked to fundamentalists interpretations of religion. You can not blame them. The pace of change in this world is mesmerizing, bewildering and troubling. But closing your eyes in the wake of a storm doesn’t mean you are not going to get wet. The real challenge for us and for Christianity will be to chart a course through the waters of our time leaving behind and going beyond the fundamentalism of our right and relativism of our left.

As we embark on this journey we first ask what is it about Christianity, the particular expressions of God in Jesus Christ that are at the same time so special and so common.

The prayer that we repeat every week, the Lord’s prayer, isn’t a novel, original or first edition order of words invented by Jesus or the early church. Just the opposite is true, the form, order and contents are all modeled after ancient Jewish prayers and wisdom sayings.

The peculiarity and particularity of the Lord’s prayer and its edge lies in where and how this prayer is to be done: in your room, behind doors and in secret. Prayer, the natural language between the creator and the created, is so secret and covert that the left hand doesn’t even know what the right hand is doing.

We begin this clandestine prayer with the simple phrase “Our Father which art in heaven.” Again nothing new or distinctive here. All over the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean world religious folk lifted up prayers to gods they knew as Father. Father Zeus, the literal progenitor of the Greek gods. All cultures referred to their gods as paternal deities who literally birthed and created them.

The peculiarity and particularity of the Lord’s Prayer and its edge lies to whom the Father is. The God Jesus addressed as “Father” is not “Father” by sexual procreation; YHWH God did not literally birth Israel. The Father of Israel was an adoptive father, who adopted Israel while they were in Egypt dying in slavery and oppression:

“I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, enslaved by the Egyptians, and I am mindful of my covenant. Therefore, say to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord, I shall free you from your labors in Egypt and deliver you from slavery. I shall rescue you with outstretched arm and with mighty act of judgment. I shall adopt you as my people, and I shall be your God.’”
(Exodus 6:5-7a)

But what about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the lower case fathers of Israel? In the Exodus passage God makes a bold break with history and comfortableness of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by superceding their narratives and adopting Israel herself. It is this God whom Jesus addressed as Our Father, the father who adopted and liberated Egypt. The God who hears our groans, executes justice and creates new life.

We cannot rely on the parents of our faith, neither Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Miriam, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Mary, Paul, Iraeneus, St. Francis, Roger Williams, and so on. You want to rely on the promise of history, family names, traditions? That was the exact stance of the Sadducees when they came to John to be baptized. “Do not presume to say to yourselves , ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” (Matthew 3:9)

The Our Father, Abba, was a peculiar and particular God, with a peculiar and particular relationship with creation.

We are not only encouraged to know this God but to also be freed, freed to love this God with our whole heart, mind and body. We cultivate this love not in a competitive or posturing atmosphere on the street but behind closed doors and in secret. We talk with this God and develop a personal relationship with this God not by heaping up empty phrases but with honest and heart felt words.

Our personal relationship with God does come attached with the promise of wealth, fame and fortune; there are no prescriptions for happiness or even well-being. There is the promise of a new human family that is going to seek God’s will, that is not going exploit or hoard goods, that is going to practice forgiveness and hope with all hope that when they are tempted they do not fail.

That is what the Lord’s Prayer has to offer friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, strangers, and loved ones; a new way of loving God and others.

Our cupboards, refrigerators and lazy-susans are full of food way beyond our daily bread. We have no need of material goods. We have needs, desperate needs of spiritual sustenance and vitality. We offer therefore, the gifts expressed in the Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, a God you talk to, in secret for the betterment of your soul and this world. A way of life based on liberation and love. A way of life revolving around forgiveness and God’s kingdom.

These are uncharted waters for us to navigate. We cannot slip in empty phrases, drop anchor on fundamental truths or simply let the wind direct our sails. We are charting an intentional course that will lead to a deeper, more truer and more authentic existence.