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Treasurer Appointment

14 February, 2010

Unfortunately, the staff and Rector of St. Paul’s did not recommend to the Bishop that Bob McConnell’s nomination as Treasurer be approved at this time due to the fact that he is not a full-time Italian resident. Fr. Russ is working with St. Paul’s and the Bishop to come up with alternate arrangements.

Our heartfelt thanks to Bob for his willingness to serve.

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Last Sunday after Epiphany, 2010 – The Light of God

14 February, 2010

While Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white, and Moses and Elijah appeared with him in glory. The Transfiguration of our Lord. An image of our Lord’s Resurrection, and the Church puts here as we are about to begin the Season of Lent, our weeks of preparation for our celebration of Easter.

What is the story of this event telling us? The story is telling us that the disciples came to believe that they knew and experienced God who created heaven and earth in Jesus. The story is telling us that the disciples believed that in Jesus they knew and experienced the God of Israel, the God who called them to be his people, the God who did marvelous works for them, the God they believed brought them out of slavery in Egypt and led them into a promised land. The story tells us that the disciples believed that in Jesus they came face to face with the infinite God. The story invites us to know and experience God in Jesus as the disciples did.

Like all the stories in the Gospels, this is a Jewish story, and to understand the full meaning of the story, for the story to come alive for us, we have to understand it as a Jewish story. The Jewish people believed that God dwelled among them, that the light of God led them through the wilderness to the promised land. They believed that the light of God dwelled in the Temple of Jerusalem. For the Jews the light of God was where heaven and earth came together. The disciples came to believe that the light of God dwelled in Jesus. They believed that Jesus was the new Temple of God. They believed that in Jesus heaven and earth came together. This is what the story of the Transfiguration is telling us in particular. They give us the story of Jesus transfigured, the One filled with the dazzling light of God.

Jesus appears with Moses, who gave the Jews the Law, and Elijah, the great prophet. The story shows that the disciples believed that Jesus came to fulfill all the law and the prophets, that Jesus gave meaning to all the law and the prophets. Moses also took his disciples with him up a mountain and there Moses entered the cloud of the presence of God, and the Scriptures describe that when he came out of the cloud his face shone so brightly that he had to cover it because no one could look upon its brightness. The disciples believed that Jesus was the new Moses and greater than Moses ever was. In the Jewish tradition about Moses there is no account of his death, and the tradition goes on to say that his body was taken by God in secret. And the Scriptures tell us about Elijah being taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot, never having died at all. These traditions seem to say that death had not touched Moses and Elijah as it touches everyone else, and so the story of the Transfiguration associates them with Jesus who the disciples believed overcame death once and for all.

The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus tells us what the disciples, these Jewish people, had come to believe about Jesus and what they came to know and experience in him. And the best way they knew how to show what they believed was to tell this very Jewish story.

There is a very telling point in the story we should not overlook, a point not about Jesus, but about the disciples. We read that Peter and John and James were weighed down with sleep, but since they stayed awake, they saw his glory. The story is clearly saying that the disciples were ready for a nap, and it’s a good thing they managed to stay awake because they could have missed the whole event. The disciples believed in Jesus, and they had left everything to follow him, but they were as human as anyone else; they were human as we are. They believed in Jesus, but they were also were men who took naps. In fact, in the Garden of Gethsemane, while Jesus agonized over the death he was about to face,, when he needed them most, what did the disciples do? They took a quick forty winks. These disciples, very much like us, took naps at odd times. Again and again they don’t get what Jesus is teaching them. They miss the point of what he says and what he does. To the very end some still thought he was some kind of political leader who would drive out Rome and restore the kingdom of Israel. They argued among themselves about who was the greatest, and James and John had their mother speak to Jesus about giving her two sons top positions in his kingdom. When people brought children to Jesus to bless them, what did his disciples do? They shooed the children away! In the end Judas betrayed Jesus; Peter denied Jesus; and the rest ran away to hide. Maybe they felt they needed a nap.

As it turned out these first disciples eventually did show extraordinary commitment and courage and vision. Many of them died as martyrs for the faith. Through the centuries we have come to honor these men and women, and here’s the point, the lesson, we must not overlook. God chooses the weak things of the world to serve his kingdom. Could it be any more clear that it was God at work in them. This is the point, our lesson. This is the truth of it. God chooses people who believe in naps. Here and now we give of ourselves, our time, our talent and our treasure for the sake of the kingdom of God, but could it be more clear that whatever happens it is really God who is at work in us and through us. This is the truth of it. Like the first disciples, we are called first and always to put our trust in God. This is the truth of it. We plant. We water. God gives the increase. With the psalmist it is the truth of it that we pray, “Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory.”

Lent starts on Wednesday. We tend to think of Lent in rather negative terms—a kind of down time—a time to focus on what we are not and what the world is not. Rightly so, but this is only a part of the picture of Lent. We should think of Lent in positive terms—an up time. Lent is time to confess what we are not and what the world is not, but Lent is meant to be a time of infallible hope—a time to know and experience more personally God in Jesus the Christ—a time to believe all the more in God’s love, in God’s providence, in God’s gifts—a time to trust in God and what God can and will do for us and in us and through us—a time to see more clearly the possibilities for us and for our world that God offers us. Lent is the time to prepare for our celebration of Easter, and Lent is the time to celebrate our hope and our trust in God in Jesus the Christ.

HAPPY LENT!

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, 2010 – The Call to the Rank and File

7 February, 2010

God called Isaiah to be his prophet. Jesus called Simon Peter and James and John, and they left everything and followed him. Again and again in Sacred Scripture and in the Christian story men and women have heard the divine call, and again and again they left everything and answered the call. These men and women are an inspiration to all of us, but what can their answer to the divine call mean to us? Thank God there are always those who go all the way. Thank God there are many who have answered the divine call and continue to answer the call like Isaiah and Simon Peter and James and John. What about us, the rank and file? Are we expected to leave everything, drop everything, and go all the way? Wouldn’t that be rather irresponsible? We don’t close our ears and hearts to God’s call. We don’t choose not to listen, not to follow him. In our very real circumstances it’s a question of how can we answer his call; how should we answer his call. How can we be practical about answering his call?

Let’s make no mistake. We are all called, each and everyone of us, to serve the coming of the kingdom of God in some way. Let’s get serious about this, but let’s be seriously practical. I would like to suggest a five point approach to answering God’s call, an approach for us the rank and file. Jesus commands us to love one another as he loved us. That’s a one point approach for us the rank and file and for everybody that says it all, but we also need some specifics. I think these specific points can provide some direction how we the rank and file can answer God’s call. I believe that if we follow this approach, we will be answering the Lord’s call to follow him, unless, of course, some special personal call from God intervenes.

How can we be practical about answering the divine call?

First. Become a member of a Christian community—a church. Become a member of a community of men and women who like each of us are trying to follow the Lord. This includes worshipping together with the community. In a word, go to church regularly. Going to church in itself will not make us Christians, any more than spending time in the kitchen will make us good cooks. Frequently we hear people say they are Christians, but they are not involved with any Christian community and they do not “go to church”. Frankly, I’d like to meet the person whose Christian faith has grown deeper and whose discipleship has grown stronger, who has no Christian community connection and does not go to church. Let’s understand this also. For those of us for whom the Holy Eucharist is at our center, we believe that a Christian can try to live ethically without the Holy Eucharist, but a Christian cannot live Christianly without the Holy Eucharist. How can we be practical about answering the divine call? Be part of a Christian community and worship regularly with the community. Implied also in this first point is make time for prayer; whatever else you do, make time for you and God.

How can we be practical about answering the divine call?

Second. Give of ourselves for the sake of the kingdom of God. Give something of our time, our talent and our treasure. Give not out of obligation, as if we had to earn God’s approval. God doesn’t deal in wages. God deals only in gifts, his to us and ours to him. How can we be practical about answering the divine call? Give something of ourselves for the sake of the kingdom of God, that is, for the sake of justice and peace, for the good of others, and for the coming together of the human family.

How can we be practical about answering the divine call?

Third. Grow in the faith. Get educated about the faith. Living the faith is about things of the heart, and not really about things of the mind, but the things of the heart cannot grow in the dark. We cannot follow the Lord in the dark. We need the light of understanding and wisdom. We need to know what is of faith and we need to know what is not of faith. Particularly, we need to see that what we think we know, but do not truly know holds us back far more than what we do not know. We follow the Lord not in our certainty of what we know, but in our humble eagerness to know the so much more there is to know. How can we be practical about answering the divine call? Open our minds to what the faith should teach us about God and us and about our relationship to each other and to the world, so that our hearts will be opened to the fullness of life, and so we can become all that we can be for ourselves and for others.

How can we be practical about answering the divine call?

Fourth. Judge not. This is surely the most ignored of Jesus’ commandments. It could seem like a fairly minor commandment. Yet if we obeyed it, we would purify the very air we breathe. Each day would be filled with sweetness and peace. We would change our lives—change our world. We would have the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love the Lord and each other, and experience the joy and wonder in all God’s works. We have to confess that it is too true that the community of Christians—the church—can and does become one of the most judgment infested, grudge and resentment filled places on earth. How can we be practical about answering the divine call? Judge not.

How can we be practical about answering the divine call?

Fifth. Live the resurrection. Most of all, this is how the first Christians followed the Lord. They lived the resurrection. Most of all, they lived their belief that in the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus had overcome all things, even death. They lived their belief in his promise that they would do even greater things than they had already witnessed. They lived their belief that in the power of the same Spirit all things were possible. They lived their belief that they were sisters and brothers of Jesus, daughters and sons of God, and partners with God in making all things new. They lived their belief that all of us and all things are being made new and that one day all of us and all things will be glorified as he is glorified forever. Because of their belief they were examples and agents of faith and hope and love and peace and joy.

How can we be practical about answering the divine call? In whatever way we can, by word and example, bring more faith and more hope and more love and more peace and more joy into the world. Light up and lift up, empower, people wherever we are. Turn people on to the power of the Holy Spirit who abides in us and among us.

How can we, the rank and file, be practical about answering the divine call?

Simon Peter and James and John, left everything and followed Jesus. Peter, like Jesus, died on the cross. From those days to these we do thank God for those who answered the divine call in extraordinary lives of service. There are still those among us who continue to serve like Simon Peter and James and John and the rest. Who of us is called to serve like that? We all have to keep our ears open for such a call as that, but the vast majority of us answer the divine call in very ordinary lives. I am suggesting this five point approach to answering the divine call: 1) Be part of a Christian community and worship regularly with the community; and make time for you and God; pray; 2) Give something of ourselves for the sake of justice, caring for others and the coming together of people; 3) Get educated about the faith; education about what we understand about the faith can never end;

4) Judge not; 5) Live in the spirit of the resurrection; be an example, an agent, of faith, hope, love, peace and joy, and these days, particularly hope.

Each and everyone of us is called by Jesus to follow him. I am suggesting we can all start by being very practical, and then let God take it from there.

Amen.

Our New Treasurer

24 January, 2010

Following the resignation of Rosemarie Valentine as the COTR Treasurer effective 31 December 2009, Fr. Russ has announced the nomination of Bob McConnell to the post. We look forward to receiving Bishop Pierre’s official appointment letter shortly, bearing in mind his intense involvement in the Haitian earthquake relief effort.

Bob is a lifelong Episcopal, owns a home with his wife Carolyn in nearby Paciano, and brings many years of high level financial and managerial experience to the position. The Bishop’s Committee looks forward to working with him in this important ministry. Welcome Bob!

Third Sunday After Epiphany

24 January, 2010

We continue in the Church Season of Epiphany, and one more time let’s understand what epiphany means. Epiphany means to show, to reveal, to tell us about something. In this season week after week we follow the stories in which God is revealing, is showing us, is telling us who the Babe of Bethlehem is. In the story of the coming of the Wise Men Jesus is revealed as the one who has come as the Lord and Savior of all people. In the story of Jesus’ baptism by John he is revealed as the beloved Son of God. In the story of the changing of water into wine Jesus is revealed as truly one of us.

In the story of Jesus at worship in his hometown synagogue, that we hear today, the revelation of who he is continues, but this time Jesus himself reveals who he is. At the service Jesus was asked to be a reader, and he was asked to read from the prophet Isaiah, and he chose to read this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” When he finished reading, Jesus said to the people, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Picture it. There was Jesus in the synagogue at worship with the people of his hometown. He read and then got into a discussion about the passage he had read. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” The people were more than impressed by his extraordinary wisdom. Of course, they had to wonder also. Jesus is a local carpenter. They knew Jesus since he was a boy, and they knew his family. And so they wondered, where on earth did he acquire such wisdom, and how is it that he speaks so clearly, with such authority? Think of it. What if one of us was assigned as a reader and after the Service at coffee hour got into a discussion about the passage he read, and about the Bible, and spoke about it with extraordinary clarity and like a person who really knew what he was talking about. We might very well be amazed and impressed. Who is this guy? We thought we knew him. Where did he get this stuff? This is what Jesus’ neighbors wondered.

At first, the people in the synagogue were amazed and more than impressed by what Jesus had to say. Then Jesus dropped a bomb. He told them that this Bible passage was fulfilled in him. The people’s wonder turned to anger. This carpenter went way too far. How could this carpenter claim that the passage was about him?

What if the guy talking at coffee hour about the passage he had read said the passage was really about him. We might get angry, but more likely we might just figure that the guy was nuts, a couple of bottles short of a six-pack. The people in the synagogue did get angry and more than angry. They wanted to kill Jesus for his blasphemy.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… because he has anointed me…” The Lord has anointed me.” A perfectly clear and wonderfully clear passage for Jesus to reveal who he was. Why? Because in the language of the Bible, for Jesus to say “the Lord has anointed me” is to say the same thing as “I am the Messiah,” the Savior, you and the world have been waiting for. The word which means to be anointed is meshiach, messiah. The people understood exactly what this carpenter was claiming.

There it was, another epiphany. Another revelation about the babe of Bethlehem, and Jesus made the revelation about himself himself. He was the one the Jewish people and the world were waiting for.

Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians continues the same Epiphany theme. In and through Paul God reveals who Jesus is not in his person, but in his power, in his action, in his effect. Jesus is still here and now with us insofar as he lives in and through each and everyone of us. As the Spirit of God formed the physical Jesus in the womb of Mary, so the Spirit of God is continually forming us into the mystical body of Jesus. As God lived and worked in and through Jesus, so God lives and works in and through each and everyone of us, members of his mystical body. Paul writes in another place, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” In the passage we hear today from Paul God reveals who the Babe of Bethlehem is to us here and now. The Babe is the head of his mystical body and we are the members of his mystical body. In the passage from Paul we hear today we have our best description of the Church, and I think we can also see in it our best description of the one human family. Paul’s description also sounds like what we Anglicans want to be. Let’s paraphrase this inspiring description.

“All the members of the body, though many, are one body, and so it should be with all of us who claim to follow Christ, and so it should be with the whole human family. People of every race and color and origin, young and not so young, women and men, poor and not so poor, conservative and liberal and middle of the roaders, radical and reactionary, we are all made to live in the one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one kind of member, but of many kinds. If the foot would say, because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would be the sense of smell? If all were a single kind of member, where would the body be? If every member had to think the same and live the same and even look the same, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, and there are many kinds of members, and there are many ways to think and many ways to live and many ways to look, and yet we are one body. One member, one point of view, cannot say to another, I have no need of you. On the contrary, we are one body and we all have need of each other in our journey into God. Let every member, whatever kind they may be, whoever they may be, have the same respect and care for one another, keeping in mind always if one member suffers, all of us suffer together, and if one member rejoices, all of us rejoice together.”

In Jesus God reveals “there is one Body and one Spirit; there is one hope in God’s call to us…one God and Father of all.”

Jesus at worship in the synagogue chose to read from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives… to give light to the blind…to let the oppressed go free…to proclaim the grace of the Lord.” This Scripture was fulfilled in Jesus, and as members of his Body, the Spirit of the Lord is also upon us. Jesus revealed himself as the one the people were waiting for, as the one who would save us, save the world, the one who would change the face of the earth, the one who would establish the kingdom of God. As members of his Body, in the power of the same Spirit who was in Jesus, the same Scripture is being fulfilled in all of us in all places and through all time. God continually reveals who Jesus is, in us and through us, in and through us, the members of his Body. In and through us the life and love of Jesus are revealed. In and through us people everywhere come to know who Jesus is, and why he was born. In and through us, by the power of the Spirit who is upon us, the Spirit who abides in us and among us, the face of the earth is changed and the kingdom of God is established. In and through us, just ordinary folks, the Epiphany continues.  Amen.

Second Sunday After Epiphany – God Truly With Us

17 January, 2010

Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding feast, and as things were winding down, his mother comes to him to tell him that the wine is running out. Jesus takes it from there. Jesus changing water into wine is probably one of the most familiar stories in the Gospels. The story makes us want to ask a question. Why would the one we believe to be the Savior of the world—the very Son of God—perform such a miracle just to spare the bride and groom some embarrassment? We are told that this was Jesus first miracle, the first sign, to his disciples about who he was. It was not a miracle, it was not a sign, that in any way changes the face of the Earth? Why would Jesus choose to reveal himself to his disciples, and reveal himself to the people, for the first time, by such a pedestrian, commonplace miracle? Doesn’t the story of changing water into wine appear out of character for the one we believe for us and for our salvation came down from heaven?

Before we get to trying to answer the “why” of the story, let’s look at the miracle itself. The story tells us that Jesus had the servants fill six jars with water to the brim. They were 30 gallon jars. Jesus changes all this water into wine. That’s 180 gallons of wine. That’s 720 quarts. (I’m still not clear on how to figure gallons and liters.) Let’s figure we could get six cups of wine from each quart. That would give us 4320 cups of wine, and the story tells us that the party was almost over. The invitation list to this wedding feast must have included the entire town of Cana and a good part of Galilee, and there must have some real heavy drinkers in the crowd.

That’s the picture of what happened. Of course, before we get to the “why” of this miracle, there is another question we should ask. Why all this wine? Maybe changing the water of only one of the jars into wine would have been enough of a miracle. That would have provided 720 cups of wine. Why a story about such an over the top miracle? Furthermore, couldn’t Jesus come up with a more responsible first miracle. After all, we know what alcohol can do to people. Who of us hasn’t had family and friends who have struggled with the disease of alcoholism? How often do we pick up a newspaper and read about the tragedy caused by a person driving while intoxicated? Why all this wine?

Actually, wine in the Bible has a prophetic meaning. In the Bible we find descriptions of wine flowing down the hills which signifies the fulfillment of God’s justice. In the Bible wine is a symbol for joy, the joy of the heart. The amount of wine in this story is a sign that foretells the power of Jesus’ mission and work which he was about to begin. The amount of the wine is a sign that the justice and the joy of Jesus the Christ will be over the top.

The amount of wine is fantastic so that it can tell the world about the extravagant, abundant, hilarious reality of the Kingdom of God, that Jesus came to announce.

Back to our question. Why did John in his Gospel write this story of Jesus at a wedding feast, doing something so relatively unimportant in the big picture of things? Let’s note that this story is told in the second chapter of John’s Gospel. What’s in his first chapter? How did John begin his Gospel? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…And the Word was made flesh and lived among us.” Also a very familiar passage, probably the most lofty passage in all of Sacred Scripture. John began his Gospel by affirming that Jesus was God among us. Then in his second chapter John wants to affirm that God lived a truly human life, that he was truly one of us. John showed this truth about Jesus by giving us a story about Jesus at a wedding feast and helping out the bride and groom, whom we can safely presume were close friends of his mother and him. What could be more down to earth than that? Matthew and Luke give us stories about the birth of Jesus, a child born of a woman like the rest of us. There are no birth stories in John. So, he uses this down to earth story about Jesus to show that he was indeed truly one of us, and to show how truly human Jesus was, John goes further than the birth stories. He gives us more than a picture of how human Jesus’ birth was. John gives us a picture of Jesus, enjoying himself at a wedding feast, full of laughter, and maybe dancing with the bride with a mutton chop in one hand and a cup of wine in the other.

It is incredible that through the centuries people came to see Jesus as a person hardly human, whose feet barely touched the ground, or even saw him as a stern taskmaster or an all-demanding judge. This story of Jesus at the wedding feast gives us a striking picture how truly human Jesus was, how truly one of us Jesus was, how truly God lived a human life in Jesus. This is the fundamental belief of our Christian faith, the belief we call the incarnation, Dio nella carne. God in the flesh

This story of Jesus at the wedding feast is not just another wonderful story. This story tells us perhaps more clearly than any other story who Jesus is, God living a human life. These days we need this story, because our lives are rife with fear and depression and stress. Too much of our lives has turned black and white and gray. We need this story of the Son of God, the Savior of the world, at a fun wedding feast and how he changed water into wine. Amen.

Haiti Earthquake

15 January, 2010

Read about Episcopal Relief and Development’s response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti. You can make a donation to help victims with both emergency needs and long term recovery through ERD.