Sunday, May 27 2018
For somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 years, I have been saying the Nicene Creed or the Apostles' Creed during a service. Early on, I checked off all the proper boxes for Confirmation class; twenty-five years later the boxes, though more subtle, were once again checked while I completed my seminary studies. However, merely passing tests on essential doctrine or giving a purely intellectual assent to them was not enough. To believe in the triune God, to worship him was not a piece of cake, at least not for me. I needed to anchor myself in something every day, something that would provide a path back when I strayed.
In Chapter 16 of John's Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples that when the “Spirit of truth comes he will guide [them] into all truth.” Whenever I have been blown astray, whenever doubts have arisen, and they still do, Jesus himself is always the corrective, the one whose Spirit gets me back on course. Hence, every morning I anchor myself in a truth expressed in a hymn attributed to Saint Patrick: “I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three.”
Numerous moments have occurred in my life when, suddenly, like lightning from a clear sky, all the tests I had passed, all the boxes I had checked, all the formulas I had memorized became actualized. In an instant, all that lay within that rehearsed, memorized, recited line was crystallized, rock solid, a firm foundation on which I stand and build. It was all true and unfolded before me, a gift of grace that swept away whatever doubts there were, at least for a time.
As is often the case, my imagination encompassed more than my brain could articulate, but in those moments the doctrine of the Trinity became more than a document debated and arrived at by ancient scholars; it was lived out in a life; it was proclaimed in pagan arenas over 2000 years ago as Christians died for this God; it is still proclaimed in pagan arenas today as Christians across the world believe (and act on that belief) that they, today, have a faith worth living and dying for. I continue to discover that the central faith of the New Testament is as present and relevant in today's world as it was even before the doctrine of the Trinity was hammered out in a church council.
Yet a question remains for me, one that arises daily in my life at some point: Will I, at this point, build on the ancient belief that the one God and “his relationship with the world has been fulfilled in Jesus and implemented by the Holy Spirit”? However the answer works itself out for the remainder of my life, will I be obedient to the creator God, incarnate in Jesus, and active in the Spirit who lives in me, breathes in me, so that others might believe in him? The answers to questions like these can best be answered in a line from Michael Ende's The Never-Ending Story: “But that's another story and shall be told another time.”
Under the Mercy,
Sunday, May 20 2018
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability (Acts 2:1-4).
St. John’s offers an incredible variety of ministries and opportunities for spiritual growth. This Sunday is the UTO Ingathering and Newcomers Sunday. Today we will ask for donations to the United Thank Offering and we ask everyone to come back and meet our new members at coffee hour. In addition, I will encourage our newcomers to join a ministry at St. John’s. We have Morning Prayer, EFM, Bible Study, Friday Breakfast, Spirituality Group Quiet Days, Friday Night Out, Hilda’s Group, ECW, Altar Guild, and the Thrift Shop (to name a few). God is truly awesome, and our congregation has unlimited potential when we align ourselves with God’s transforming love.
Herbert O’Driscoll, renowned Anglican theologian and preacher, believes that God offers all of us this transforming love, but the heartbreaking paradox is that even though we desire meaning, purpose and fulfillment more than ever in our age, the many demands for our time and sheer busyness in our lives often push God’s transforming grace to the periphery of our thoughts.
Our rational, linear world-view can squeeze out the possibility of seeing the breaking in of God into our world and the gift of God’s love. Without signs and windows, we slide back to a darkened world where we blame sin for our afflictions, where we search for meaning that we cannot find, and where we attempt to earn grace that cannot be bought.
As the rector of St. John’s, my responsibility is to help you experience the presence of Jesus Christ in the scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. If you would like to journey deeper in your spiritual life, I recommend talking to me, joining our bible study on Tuesdays at 11:00, EFM on Monday nights next Fall, or picking up a copy of our book of the month, Verna Dozier’s The Dream of God.
The Good News of the Gospel is not just that Jesus died for our sins, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. The life changing, transforming love that God offers us unconditionally is offered readily through the Holy Spirit in the real presence of Jesus Christ. We have a fabulous opportunity through the power of the Holy Spirit to bring the transforming love of God to our friends, neighbors, and family. A good example of this is our efforts of our Racial Reconciliation Ministry.
This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost Sunday. We gather together like the disciples and the hundred and twenty others in today’s lesson from Acts. The Holy Spirit is definitely here, but we must have faith in God’s presence. I’m not sure you will see tongues of fire, but I hope you will feel the love of this church. The Holy Spirit brings us together to love one another as Christ loves us.
In Christ’s love,
Sunday, May 13 2018
Happy Mother’s Day!
As we celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday, we honor, celebrate and remember mother’s, grandmother’s, aunt’s, Godmother’s and all women who love, nurture, inspire and enrich the lives of others.
I did a little research this week into the history of Mother’s Day. Although there had been occasional ceremonies to honor mothers in the late 1800s, the first “official” celebration of Mother’s Day is recorded as May 10, 1908. Celebrated at Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, the service in 1908 was organized by Anna Jarvis along with the support of John Wannamaker of Philadelphia. In addition to honoring her own mother, Ann Jarvis, who had taught Sunday School at the church, Anna campaigned to honor mothers everywhere. The observance spread and was widely celebrated in New York the following year. By 1914 a law had been enacted which designated the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.
Our mission at St. John’s is “To Know Christ and to Make Him Known.” You will see this statement printed in our church publications, on our website, and on our Facebook page. In last week’s Chalice publication, Father Duncan invited each of us to consider how our relationship with Christ can grow and how we are called to proclaim Christ in the world. God has bestowed grace on us and out of God’s abundant grace we share with others. God can and will work in and through us we make ourselves available to him.
I did not know much about the history of Mother’s Day before this week. But what a great example we see in the work of Anna Jarvis and the Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church – how the inspiration of one person and the vision of her faith community would lead to a national day of observance and the honoring and raising up of all women. Anna Jarvis had the inspiration and vision of honoring women and she did something to share that with others. However, it involved the cooperation and work of the entire faith community to join her in the vision that would set that first Mother’s Day on the path to be what it is today.
Every person, every voice, every vision is important at St. John’s. We are seeking to know Christ and to make him known. How is God calling you to grow in a deeper spirituality? Where is God calling you to join with others in this faith community to share God’s love and grace in the world? How is your life and our life together making Christ known? Will we, like Anna Jarvis and Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church, be willing to share our vision?
For grace is given not because we have done good works,
Blessings this Mother’s Day,
Sunday, May 06 2018
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:9-12)
Leslie Valentine led a vestry retreat last Sunday to look at our mission statement using a theological reflection. This is a method of seeing the world through four different lenses. We looked at our mission statement to “Know Christ and Make Him Known.” Leslie used the invitation method of hearing all voices that was created by Eric Law. Each member invited another to respond to questions such as: what we love about St. John’s and what the mission statement says in different contexts. We reflected on the action, tradition, culture, and personal statements of the group. We ended with a look at where God is calling our church to be in the future. The entire session was surrounded by prayer.
I want to share a few of the group’s answers and ask you to respond to the questions yourself. The vestry loves St. John’s for its: spiritual growth; people; personal relationships; music; fellowship; warmth; love; spiritual family; pursuit of ministries; acceptance/community; generous spirit; use of gifts; family; hospitality; generosity; children who are our treasure; a beautiful place; support; fellowship; morning prayer; and a great place to raise a child.
Our vision for the future is: more diversity; younger, open minded, invested people who have a purpose; to be more evangelistic; growth in attendance; becoming a community center; allowing organic diversity in leadership; a center of life in our community; building community for our youth; keeping our building in good repair for future generations; a clear mission and purpose; and to do these things while retaining our traditions.
If you are interested in deepening your own spirituality, I highly recommend signing up for “Education for Ministry” next fall. Starting in September, the classes are held on Monday nights and the community that is formed is a model for all committees and groups at St. John’s. EFM does require a fair amount of reading each week, but many of our graduates tell me that it is the best class that they have ever joined. There will be an inquirers class on Tuesday, June 19th at 6:45 pm. If you would like to know more about the program, please contact Leslie Valentine.
We are called to love one another as God has loved us. We need to be a reflection of God’s love to one another. The vestry retreat was very uplifting because our vision of the future is very bright. I am very thankful for being in the midst of such a terrific group of people that really care about each other and those who are less fortunate in our community. If you are a new member, I invite you to attend a special service in your honor on May 20th. We want to thank you for joining this wonderful parish and we want to get to know you better.
In Christ’s love,
Rev. Duncan Burns