Notes from our Pastor July 2017 – Gratitude from a child

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When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

I recently had a very different sort of experience when I made a home visit to some parishioners. We always have extensive conversations before I give them Communion. This last visit, their grandson Randy was home after school. Even though he’s only in elementary school, he likes to talk to adults and always engages me. But this time, he really took me by surprise when he suddenly said, “Father Bill, I just want to thank you.”

My natural response was to ask, “For what, Randy?”

“Why, for baptizing me at church.” While I had not forgotten that he had asked on his own to be baptized, and that he had made his own declaration of intention during the service and stood up proudly at the font to receive baptism, I was surprised to hear how deep an impression that had made upon him. So, when the visit with his grandparents was winding down, and I opened my Communion kit and began to lay out the elements, Randy asked whether he could receive as well. “Of course you can,” was my response. “After all, you are just as much a member of the Church is anyone else here.” And so with deep seriousness, young Randy received Communion along with his grandparents.

I mention this story for two reasons. First, even as a priest who believes that his special duties as a priest are to administer sacraments, I sometimes forget how very special and powerful those sacraments can be. Not only for those such as shut-ins or the sick whose access to the Eucharist is more limited than those who can attend church regularly, but also for all who seek God’s grace in this formal way as they deal with private, personal struggles in their daily lives. Whether it is an encounter using recognized sacraments such as Holy Communion or the anointing of the sick for healing, or the other Christian actions which convey God’s grace, such as various forms of touch or laying upon of hands, shared prayer, or being present to hear the needs of another in Christ’s name – all of these are extraordinary in their own ways. And while the call of an ordained priest is specifically to administer sacraments, our belief in the priesthood of all believers affirms how many ministers of the Gospel there are among us and in how many ways God’s presence and grace are made manifest by our service to others.

Remember this, my brothers and sisters who are also called to ministry in the Spirit: that no act which shows the love of God is ever trifling or insignificant in God’s sight.

The other point I wish to make concerning Randy and his expression of thankfulness to me concerns humility. This child, still in elementary school, was cognizant that something important had happened at his baptism – and he was outwardly thankful for it. I’m not sure exactly what Randy had in mind by saying that. Clearly, he understood that he was now part of the Church. He understood that he had a place in that congregation, making him as much a member as any adult present. Did he have a theology that told him he had been “buried with Christ in a death like his and raised with him in a resurrection like his?” I am more than 50 years older than Randy and have had the benefit of seminary training, and I cannot fully comprehend that statement of Paul’s, yet I believe it and am humbled by my comprehension of it. Randy is still a child, and yet even with his child’s understanding, he knows that he belongs to Christ and can receive Communion with his elders because they are all in communion with God.

His only “mistake” is thinking that he should thank me for his baptism. True, I consider it a blessing to be the one to officiate at this holy moment when, through water and the Spirit, Randy was brought into Christ’s one holy Catholic and apostolic Church. But is to Christ alone, who through his death and resurrection made possible our new life in him, that we should all be thankful. Only by the grace of God who “so loved the world that He gave His only Son” and the self-giving sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ that we have the baptism which Randy, and I, and all Christians have received. If thanks are to be given, give them only to the Lord of Life, without whose grace we would not know but life truly is.

Father Bill

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Notes from our Pastor June 2017 – Community

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Some questions for us to think about in the season of Pentecost:  What does it mean to be a member of the community? How do we hold ourselves accountable to each other within the community? How is the community as a whole, and each individual member of it, accountable to God?

The Gospels tell us that Jesus called a small group of disciples during his lifetime and that he promised them power if they put their trust in him. He told them that they had one commandment of his to fulfill, namely to love one another as he loved them (John 13:34-35). This fellowship was temporarily broken when Jesus was arrested and put to death, but by his resurrection and his repeated appearances to his disciples, Jesus re-called them into a group centered around him (Acts 1:1-3). Finally, as he left them to return to the Father, he promised them that the Spirit would soon come to change their lives—it would mold them into a community which became the Church

In Luke’s description of the day of Pentecost, it is important to notice that the Spirit came upon all those who were assembled (Acts 2:1-4). Peter may emerge as the spokesperson in the confrontations with the outside community, but whatever ecstatic experience was given, it was given to the whole assembly. Henceforth, what we will later call “the early Church” in Jerusalem would be a community bound by their belief that Jesus was the Messiah and empowered equally by the visitation the Spirit. As the book of Acts continues, we repeatedly find that new converts who hear and believe the proclamation that Jesus is Lord are also given the Holy Spirit (Acts 10: 44-47) – meaning that this community shares a like gift which creates their identity. From the very beginning, the Church proclaimed–as we do in our baptismal ceremony–that we believe there is

One Body and one Spirit;

There is one hope in God’s call to us;

One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;

One God and Father of all.                 (BCP, 299)

The essence of the community, therefore, is characterized by its oneness in Christ.

Acts goes on to describe how the very earliest members gave up their earthly goods and possessions and shared their wealth among all members of the community (Acts 2: 44-45). This had the effect of eliminating barriers among the members of the community: rich vs. poor, haves vs. have-nots, entitled and privileged vs. needy and deprived—all were made equal within the community. It was as if the long-awaited Jubilee of the Lord had finally been realized in the egalitarian nature of the Church community (cf. Leviticus 25: 10-17). Although we have no idea how long such an idyllic situation existed among the members of the Church, the consequences for the community were amazing. No one considered that anything was their own, and therefore the implements of power which so often reserves privilege or prestige to one person or group at the expense of others was absent.

Lest this sounds too good to be true, the first phase of building the community which would become the Church began with equal empowerment for all members. Imagine if all the familiar pyramid-like structures of power and privilege were replaced by an ever-growing circle of people standing shoulder to shoulder as brothers and sisters, all serving one Lord and serving each other solely out of the love and regard for that person’s needs!  Idealized or not, that would serve as a worthy model of the Christian community.

Most communities have rights of initiation; the early Church also adopted baptism as its right of initiation. Baptism expressed repentance and the death to someone’s former life, and resurrection and rebirth into a new life in Christ. This new life was not solitary, but social, allowing the newly-baptized to join in the company of others who prayed for one another, who cared for one another, and who demonstrated by loving acts that they were truly all children of one God.

I write about these aspects of community because it serves to remind us of the standard to which we are called by our baptism and by our continuing life together.  As we consider ourself a community striving to be what we were called to be, we are not closing our hearts and minds to those outside the Church, whether our own local parish or the wider world we share with all of God’s children.  But it is important, especially as we celebrate the season of Pentecost, to take time to reflect upon ourselves and to ask honestly whether we are the community described above.

First, do we acknowledge that we have been “called” by the Spirit to be part of the Body of Christ and to belong wholeheartedly to our Lord by our membership within that sacred mystery called the Church?  Do our acts honor the Lord above all else, especially by demonstrating our love for one another and for our neighbor?  Do we turn away from anything which would give honor or prestige to some members, especially at the expense of others?  And by our prayers and with our hearts, do we seek what is best for any and all members of this community, leaving no “outcasts,” but always connecting and affirming others in their life in Christ?  Are we able to be a model of forgiveness and love, so that we be a sign of God’s reconciling love to and for the world?

Let us together in the power of the Spirit seek and serve Christ in all persons, and in all things rejoice to be part of the fellowship and community which lives to exalt the Lord and to proclaim by our words and acts the grace which God has shown to us through Jesus Christ.  So let it be!

Fr. Bill