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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Church news, 11/30: "Living in the kingdom of Christ the King"

November 22, the last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King Day, provided the opportunity for us to consider who is the king of us -- Christ or someone/something else?

Fr. David pointed out that Jesus Christ gave a succinct description of His kingdom when he appeared before Pontius Pilate:

My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.... For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice. (John 18:33-37)

"The world's way is to fight for power," Fr. David says. "There's a big difference between how things are done in the world and how they are done in Christ's kingdom."

While the difference is huge, it's still easy to get caught up in worldly fights because even though we aren't of the world we're in it. Even during the life of Jesus, we see Peter drawing a sword and cutting off the ear of Malchus in an attempt to stop him from arresting Jesus:

"Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" (Matthew 26:53,54)

And Jesus heals Malchus' ear and allows Himself to be arrested. This is the ultimate example of faith in God: the man Jesus, struggling with the idea of laying down his life, obeying his Heavenly Father as the Christ of the Trinity.

"We're meant to be in the Kingdom and the Kingdom in us -- where God is honored, worshiped, adored and obeyed through faith," Fr. David said. Fighting in the world's way indicates we prefer to trust in our own strength than in God's.

"How much difference has the Gospel and presence of Jesus made in your life?" Fr. David asked. "Do we fight as the world fights, or do we witness by word and behavior? Do we really believe that the Kingdom of God is the 'pearl of great price', worth everything to obtain? Let us pray for change in the world -- 'Thy will be done on earth as in Heaven' -- one life at a time, starting with ours."

NOTES: The Parish Annual Meeting was held following worship. Joseph Ibezim and Jason Willson were elected unanimously to three-year terms on the Vestry. New Ministry and Liturgy Committees were formed and the parish spent some time looking at its forward planning in terms of a draft 2010 budget, a new design for ministry functions, and desired characteristics of a church home. Thanks to the Sunday School for their gifts of Advent Chains and thanks to all who helped supply the delicious lunch. The Women's Book Group meeting will be re-scheduled after the holidays. Books to be discussed include Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and Catching Fireflies by Patsy Clairmont.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Church news, 11/21: "Hannah -- Blessings through perseverence and prayer"

We continued our study of women in the Bible on Nov. 15 with an examination of the life of Hannah.

When one thinks of heroines of Scripture, Hannah is not one of the first to spring to mind. But Fr. David pointed out that she was an inspiring example in her own day, later to the Virgin Mary, and continuing to the present. "You may remember Heidi Smith, a missionary to Chile we supported, along with her husband Russ. Heidi always looked to Hannah for an example of Godly living," he told us.

Hannah was a woman who felt the sting of the Jewish convention of allowing men to have more than one wife. We recall this started with Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. God promised Abraham and Sarah an heir, but rather than trust God, they "tried to settle God's mind," Fr. David said. "They decided to fulfil the promise for God by adding a second, younger wife, Hagar." Of course, Sarah did eventually -- even in her old age -- give birth to the promised heir, Isaac. And the contention between the wives ended with the banishment of Hagar and her son Ishmael.

Society, sadly, didn't learn from this and other polygamous marriages. Wives became more like property and less like partners. A man's wealth and power were measured in part by how many wives he could support and how many children they bore him.

So Hannah, one of two wives of Elkanah, felt doubly cursed. Not only did she have a rival in Elkinah's other wife, Peninnah, but she was also childless, something that Peninnah constantly alluded to. Moreover, Hannah was only entitled to a single portion of Elkanah's sacrifices and other goods while Peninnah received portions for herself and all of her children.

Hannah became so distressed that she stopped eating, went to the temple, and prayed passionately but silently, since women were expected to be "seen and not heard". And even in the temple, society judged her wrongly. Eli the priest assumes she's drunk because her mouth is moving as she prays. He harshly asks her how long she'll live as a drunken person.

Now, after all the scorn heaped on Hannah, one might expect her to run away, curse God, and declare the priest an unfeeling hypocrite. But instead, she courageously corrects his wrong impression of her and Eli apologizes and blesses her, "Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have made to him."

Fr. David pointed out that Hannah wasn't praying to make a deal with God, but simply that God would remember her and her situation. "We see the same language with the thief on the cross, who asks Jesus to remember him. This isn't about the mind remembering, but the soul."

Hannah understood that everything belongs to God because it comes from God. She prayed to be allowed to give God what was already his -- the son she longed to bear. She offered her son-to-be as a Nazarite, a consecrated priest for life whose hair would never be cut. And then she left the temple, washed her face, resumed eating and a happy normal life -- the evidence of true faith, giving the problem to God and considering it solved.

And in fact, God did give Hannah a son, Samuel, the great priest and prophet who heard God's audible call at a young age in a time when God's direct intervention was rare. Hannah's Canticle of thanksgiving was recorded, and the Magnificat of Mary would later echo it. From a place of utter helplessness, Hannah let God raise her up to cast a light down through history.

"Hannah shows us where the Lord is at times in life when we're made to feel less," Fr. David explained. "Women in particular are familiar with this feeling, an attitude of society that needs to be broken in Christ, where there is neither male nor female. We are all far more than society would make us, and as we realize this we will be willing to offer back to God the gift of ourselves, to be the answer to part of our own prayers."

NOTES: Parish annual meeting is tomorrow, Nov. 22, following worship. Lunch (submarine sandwiches, sides and soda) will be available in Room B and the meeting is scheduled to conclude at 1:30. We will elect parish officers, hear a treasurer's report, and discuss our future in relation to the rector's Covenant Agreement, transition of ministries, mission and calling of the parish and future plans for worship and meetings. Please plan to attend this important meeting.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Church news, 11/13 -- "Ruth, Dedication and Steps of Faith"

November 8th's sermon message focused on the Old Testament story of Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, still quoted 3,000 years later at weddings -- "whither thou goest, I will go...".

Ruth, a Moabitess (Moab was located where Jordan is today), was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, a Jewish woman who moved to Moab with her husband, Elimelech, to escape a famine in Judah. Naomi's sons came of age in Moab and took wives from among the Moabites, Ruth and Orpah.

Sadly, within about 10 years, Elimelech and both of his sons were dead, leaving three widows. By this time the famine had ended, and so Naomi prepared to return to her family in Judah. Her daughters-in-law began to make the journey with her, but Naomi stopped them and pointed out that it would be better for them to go home to their own mothers and find new husbands among their own people. Both of them argued with her at first, but eventually Orpah was persuaded and started the journey to her own home.

Ruth, however, would not be moved and insisted on traveling to Judah with Naomi. Once they reached Bethlehem, Naomi taught Ruth the tradition of Jewish families -- that widows were allowed to follow behind those gathering a grain harvest and pick up any gleanings left behind. Ruth did this and attracted the attention of Boaz, a kinsman of Naomi's, who made sure she got enough food for both women before eventually purchasing the land holdings of Elimelech and his sons and marrying Ruth.

Why was it, we wonder, that Ruth was willing to follow Naomi, turning her back on her own family, culture, and religion? Naomi means "pleasantness", so we can assume she was a good companion, and she had shared tragedy with Ruth. But would these things be enough to cause Ruth to leave behind her own real mother, her family, and her identity?

What's between the lines of the story is that Naomi was living a holy life. She was a living example to Ruth of what Yahweh was like. We often have confusion over the place of works in our lives of faith. We know works won't save us. We know faith without works is dead. How do these truths not contradict each other?

Naomi shows us that the reason to do works and try to live a holy life isn't to impress God, but rather show God to those around us. Because she showed Yahweh to Ruth, Ruth was persuaded. It doesn't always work -- Orpah saw the same example but still eventually decided to stay in Moab -- but how we deal with tragedy or any of life's problems is a much more powerful witness than anything we might tell people.

Of course, once Naomi and Ruth arrived in Judah, Ruth also saw "how people of God care for each other," as Fr. David pointed out. "The way Ruth was treated by Naomi's people reveals the way we should behave as a parish family." At the end of the story, Ruth bears a son, Obed, and the women of Naomi's neighborhood rejoice with her, telling her Obed is her son too, because Ruth and Boaz would never have met except for her. It's amazing what can happen in a community of believers! Thanks be to God!

NOTES: The Parish Annual Meeting will take place following worship on Sunday, Nov. 22. The agenda and voter list is posted in the chapel. We'll have a dish-to-pass lunch on that day. After worship on Nov. 8 we had a farewell reception for Al Bagdonas, who with his wife, Holly, has moved to South Carolina. We'll miss Al and Holly but wish them all the best in their new life and ministry. Bon-Ton Community Day is tomorrow, Nov. 14. A percentage of the money taken in tomorrow will be donated to All Saints.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Thought for the Day: Refocus

C.H. Spurgeon (circa 1857):
Dear friends, the last song in this world, the song of triumph, shall be full of God, and of no one else. Here you praise the instrument, to-day you look on this man and on that, and you say, “Thank God for this minister, and for this man.” To-day you say, “Blessed be God for Luther, who shook the Vatican, and thank God for Whitfield, who stirred up a slumbering church;” but in that day you shall not sing of Luther, nor of Whitfield, nor of any of the mighty ones of God’s hosts; forgotten shall their names be for a season, even as the stars refuse to shine when the sun himself appeareth. The song shall be unto Jehovah, and Jehovah only; we shall not have a word to say for preachers nor bishops, not a syllable to say for good men and true; but the whole song from first to last shall be, “Unto him that loved us, and hath washed us from our sins in his own blood, unto him be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
 This 'thought of the day' comes from one of the greatest preachers the world has ever known: Charles Spurgeon. This thought reminds us of what it means to put God first: to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. After-all, life and faith are not about us... how we are doing, or whatever, it is all about God, first and foremost. Praise be to Almighty God! Amen.

Church news, 10/28: "Job -- Knowing God with heart and soul"

In the fourth and final message in our series on Job, we see how God leads Job to a faith that is secure and personal. Through God's answer to Job we learn that Job always obeyed God and, throughout his time of testing, he did not sin against God.
It can rightly be said that Job loved God with his heart and respected God with his intellect throughout his life. But until he came face to face with God he lacked the ultimate level of spiritual understanding. "Job comes to a place of humility. He recognizes that he shouldn't have spoken at all because he lacked understanding, but now he recognizes and understands the majesty and glory of God. Now he believes in God not just by hearing but also by seeing and knowing God personally." Fr. David explained.

"Most of us are in this place of personal faith in our good times, as Job was. But how awesome to be there also in our bad times -- to have total confidence even then in the trustworthiness of Almighty God."

We know that much is required of those who receive much. As a man rich in the world's wealth, Job had long been a good steward. But now Job has had a personal audience with the Almighty, and something new will be required of him: God asks Job to serve as priest and intercessor for his three friends.

"Job was chosen because priests are called to represent God correctly," said Fr. David. "Job had met God vertically and now had to represent him horizontally, in love to his neighbors. And as soon as he does this -- intercedes for his friends forgiveness and prays for them -- God accepts Job's intercession and then restores all that Job had before: twice the material wealth, the comfort of all his family and friends, and 10 children. God does relates to Job in the deepest of ways: in community!" Job, drawing closer to God, helps his friends to be reconciled with God and with him, brings forgiveness to his wife, is restored with even greater respectability and leadership in the greater community, and is able to truly enjoy all that he has because he understands in the deepest and most profound of ways the source and meaningfulness of all blessing.

Likewise, in a way, Job serves as a priest to us, as we study and take in his extraordinary encounter with God in the depths of personal faith. Thanks be to God for Job's wonderful witness!

NOTE: If you've not yet had time to complete the parish survey and stewardship response sheet, please take a moment to do so before Nov. 1, All Saints' Day. Thank you!