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The Chalice
Friday, August 27 2021

Our first lesson from the Book of Deuteronomy has the prophet entreating Israel to be faithful to the laws given them by God Himself. He tells them never forget and be faithful in teaching their children, what God has done for them. I believe we are all prone to be forgetful in the little things of life. We look for our glasses for 10 minutes, only to realize that they were on our head the whole time. Or look for our keys but eventually realize they were in our pocket. God’s immanence — meaning ‘within’ or ‘nearness’ — says that God is like that. Even as you search for God, God is already near. In reality you already have Him, your search is over. 

Today’s second lesson from St. James’ letter to the 12 tribes of Israel is filled with very practical advice and counsel. He is encouraging them to be intentional about living out their faith. St. James entreats them to practice what they hear and believe. Those who only listen to the Word are like a person who sees the face he inherited from his family in a mirror, and when he turns from that image forgets what sort of person he is. Have you ever thought about what your life would be like without a mirror? Seriously: What would we do without mirrors? Similarly, we can't get along without God's Word. We absolutely need it. And we must heed it. If we only hear the Word and do not practice it, we, too, forget what kind of people we are – namely, people who have been birthed by God and therefore people who have the responsibility to do what the Word of God says. The one who fixes attention on the law will become a doer, and in that doing will be blessed.

Our Gospel from St. Mark, once again relates a confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. Some of Jesus' disciples were more orthodox in their Jewish practices while other disciples were less strict in their observance of washing rituals. It seems to be a trivial thing – not eating with clean hands. Although our moms may agree with the Pharisees here. But the real issue is not hygiene but popularity. These religious leaders see Jesus as a rival – surely motivated in part by envy. They want to undermine his authority, scatter his followers, and in due course some even hope to kill him. In other words, the Pharisees and scribes are hungry for what Germans call Schadenfreude, pleasure at the downfall of another, a feeling that is particularly savory when the other is a populist figure or seen as an adversary.

Jesus reinforces his denunciation of the Pharisees and scribes when he addresses the crowd. Simply put, neither unwashed hands nor food bought at the market nor ceremonially unclean pots and dishes contaminate a person. Rather, a person is polluted by his or her own thoughts, which originate inside and then radiate out. However, it should be clear that Jesus is not denying the existence of outside influences that defile us. If anything, interior evil thoughts and outside evil influences form an inseparable nexus that defiles, degrades and ultimately destroys the divine goodness (i.e., imago Dei) God gives to each individual.

-- Cn. Richard

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Posted by: Rev. Cn. Richard Visconti AT 01:35 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, August 23 2021

So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’ (John 6:67-69)

Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.  (Ephesians 6:13-20)

How can we find a way of life that will express an authentic expression of our love and willingness to serve God? Timothy Sedgwick, ethics scholar, says that “Welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, forgiving those who have acted against us, and perhaps most prosaically, but fundamentally sharing meals together in table fellowship—in these actions Christians claim they experience the full presence of God in a way that orients, reorients, forms, and transforms the roles and relations of everyday life.” When we do these things we move closer to what God wants us to become. In other words, we move closer to the abundant life, which is what God created us for. In moral terms, vices are those things that corrupt our human powers and capacities and virtues are the perfection of human powers and capacities. The theological virtues are faith, hope and love. Faith is the knowledge of God and the act of knowing God and brings us to a trust in God. Hope is an expectation of new opportunities and joys. Love is the experience of being loved by God. We might think we are headed in the right direction, but our arrogance makes us vulnerable.

How we love our neighbors that are different from us indicates how we love the Lord. Jesus said that what counts is what’s inside. Our actions through the power of the Holy Spirit change people from the inside out. Sedgewick said, “The presence of God given in worship is inseparable from the call into the covenant of hospitality that is our daily life…only in the covenant of hospitality do we acknowledge that we share a common humanity. In this is the ground for justice.”

In Christ's Love,

Fr. Duncan

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Friday, August 13 2021

Last week, I helped us understand part of the meaning of “the bread of life” through Winnie the Pooh. Communion with Jesus Christ teaches us to love others as we have been loved by God. God loves us unconditionally and sent Jesus Christ that we might know how to be in communion with one another and with Christ. As a boy loves his bear or his pets, God loves us. There is an innocence of a child loving his stuffed animal that parallels Gods love for all of us. Maybe you have this same relationship with your spouse, partner, friends, or pets. At St. John’s we believe that Jesus is the son of the living God. The bread of life brings us in communion with Jesus and through following the Gospel, we learn how to love others and do the will of God. We struggle to understand something that is so basic to our happiness.

Today’s lesson from John’s Gospel has certainly been difficult to understand throughout history. The idea of bread coming down from heaven was probably not hard for Jews in Jesus' time because they had the stories of manna coming from God during the exodus. The idea that second century Christians ate the body and blood of Jesus would have been very difficult to grasp. As you are probably aware, the very idea of drinking blood runs contrary to Jewish law. The derivation of the Eucharist does come in part from the Jewish family meal. Before the meal, a loaf of bread was blessed, prayers were spoken and the bread was shared. After the meal, a cup of wine was blessed, more elaborate prayers were spoken and the cup was passed. The Jewish service at the temple included one reading from Moses and one from the Hebrew Bible. Psalms were read, the shema would be sung, prayers were then given and the teaching of scripture would follow. The shema was prayed numerous times each day:

She-ma yisrael, adonai eloheinu, adonai echad

Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One

This verse is followed by one line of text that is traditionally recited in an undertone:

Baruch shem kavod malchuto l’olam va-ed

Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever

The remainder of the Shema prayer is taken from three biblical sources:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:5-9).

At the Last Supper, Jesus teaches the disciples a new understanding of this ritual. Jesus was Jewish and therefore would have celebrated the Passover. Jesus simplifies the law in two commandments. Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. You all know the words of institution from the Eucharist. Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to the disciples, “Take, eat, This is my body which is given for you.” Jesus blood and body are given for our sins. In Jesus suffering, death and resurrection we are offered new life in him. The wine and bread become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The early Christians shared a meal at their first services and eventually shared just bread and wine. Jesus simplified our understanding of complicated Jewish law to just two commandments. Love God and love one another. At times religion can make very simple concepts hard to understand, but communion is simply relationship with God and one other.

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Friday, August 06 2021

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).This statement is crucial to our faith because Jesus Christ came down from heaven to show us the will of the father. In Jesus time many complained that they knew Jesus’ mother and father. How could this man say that he is the bread of heaven? After he feeds the five thousand and walks on water, some people just can’t rationalize that something that is greater than us is going on. Jesus replies that “whoever believes has eternal life for I am the bread of life.” We are asked to see Jesus Christ as the top priority in our life.

At the 10:00 service on Sunday and at the 11:30 service, I will ask if you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, if you will continue in the apostles’ teachings and the breaking of bread, if will you repent and turn to the Lord when you sin, if will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, if you will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself and if will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? If you earnestly answer, I will with God’s help, The water that these children will be baptized in is the very same water through which God led the people out of their bondage in Egypt, the very same water Jesus turned into wine, the exact water that John poured over Jesus’ head at his Baptism when he was anointed as the Messiah and the heavens tore open.

We are drawn in by the grace of God, forgiven of our sins by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and have been given the promise of eternal life. In the letter to the church at Ephesus, we are challenged to live our lives in the Kingdom of God. "Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice for God." We are beloved children of God who witness the mystery of God’s love right here at St. John’s. Those of us who have glimpsed of the eternal and live in faith have a responsibility to let our light shine to our own children and to the next generations. I remember one visit home while in college. After church, I went with my father delivering sandwiches to the homeless in Bay Shore. At a time that I was drifting away from the Lord, it absolutely blew me away that my dad knew these people by name. My faith was restored and I began doing service work at school. We must persevere in our faith and witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ by giving of ourselves for the sake of others. There was a day when faith in Jesus Christ and living in the life of the church was the norm. Herbert O’Driscoll remembers it well and maybe you do too, but we can’t just hold on to memories, we must be vigilant about how we live and how we witness to the love of Christ.

In Christ’s love,

Fr. Duncan

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