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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Church news, 12/30: "Beholding the glory of God's own Son"

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and
the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'") And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

We meditated on John 1:1-18 in our Sunday worship Dec. 27. Fr. David highlighted for us all the different ways John spoke of Jesus Christ in this passage: as the Word of God, who was with God from the very beginning and won't return void; as the Light that illuminates the nature of God and brightens our daily walk; as the Life that is the light of men.

"The world was made by Him, but knew him not," Fr. David pointed out. "We have a choice -- to try to hide in darkness or to receive from Jesus Christ 'the power to become children of God' and walk in the light. This is our decision. We can choose to let Christ love us, and we can thrive, receiving 'grace upon grace.' "

Let us begin the New Year accepting the gift of true life that Christ came down from Heaven to bring us! Alleluia!

NOTES:  On Sunday, January 10, 10 a.m., we will not be meeting in the Chapel, we will be in Webster sharing in a joint Service with our brothers and sisters at Holy Cross Anglican Church, 615 Bay Road, Webster. CLICK HERE FOR WEB SITE and to get map

Monday, December 21, 2009

Church news, 12/21: "Blessed is Mary, the mother of our Lord"

Our Sunday worship message examined the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the development of Christianity. "Protestants have been inclined to downplay Mary's role as a reaction to the Roman Catholic Church's emphasis on Mary," Fr. David said, prefacing a look at "Mary, the disciple most excellent".

He reminded us that Mary figured in the prophecies of Isaiah: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive..." Isaiah 7:14. "She was chosen, even created, for the purpose of being the mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus, but she also had a say in the matter and needed to agree. We have a lot to learn from her about letting God take over our lives and fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Scripture tells us that after Gabriel visited Mary, she 'pondered in her heart' and then humbly and wholeheartedly agreed; a willing servant who was holy, chaste, humble and honest."

He pointed out further that when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, whose own unlikely pregnancy had also been announced by Gabriel to her husband Zechariah the priest, before Mary could tell her anything Elizabeth's baby jumped in the womb and Elizabeth cried out "Blessed are you among women!" under the power of the Holy Spirit.

"Note that Mary is exclaimed as blessed among women," Fr. David explained. "Not 'blessed are you above all women', but 'among' -- as one of us, in the midst of us."

This is where the Roman Catholic church loses its way, he said, piling on extrabiblical traditions to make Mary the "Mother of God", "CO-Redeemer", and "Queen of Heaven". These traditions allege that Mary was without sin, and therefore must have been immaculately conceived herself, and also was bodily assumed into Heaven, and had no other children, and so on.

"All these traditions take away from the primacy of Jesus Christ and from the miraculous humanity of Mary and her humble, yet exemplary faith in God. Did the shepherds and wise men come to worship Mary along with Jesus? No, they came to worship Jesus.

"But Protestants go too far in the other direction sometimes -- diminishing Mary, forgetting the lessons she can teach about giving over one's whole life to God and letting Him be magnified. "In a way, each of us is God's chosen one," Fr. David concluded. "If you're looking for true joy, spend time with God, grow in humble faith and willingness to let Almighty God be Almighty God in your life and let  your soul magnify, glorify and honor Him."

NOTES: We'll be sharing a Festal Eucharist service with Christmas carols on Christmas Eve at 9 p.m., cookies and soft drinks following. This will be in our regular place of worship, the chapel at Reformation Lutheran Church on Chestnut Street. We have several opportunities for mutual ministry: if you would like to help with the Altar Guild, just join the person who is setting up or cleaning up and ask how you can help; if you'd like to join the counting team, let Fr. David know; if you can be a lector and read during worship, sign up on the list outside the chapel.

Friday, December 04, 2009

"Forgive us... as we forgive..."

When you say the Lord's Prayer, do you say "forgive us our trespasses" or "forgive us our debts"?

I've been thinking about both of these, lately. "Forgive us our trespasses" figures in the magnificent novel Home, by Marilynne Richardson, companion to the equally magnificent Gilead we're reading in the Women's Book Group. (Recommendation: read Gilead first.) The two-book saga tells the Prodigal Son story in the context of life in a small town in 1950s Iowa. The son is seen first through the eyes of his godfather, a Congregational (Calvinist) pastor, and then again through the eyes of his father, a Presbyterian (Arminian) minister.

The second book recounts an incident in which an immigrant family of Soviet Communists starts farming an unused piece of the minister's land. They do it without asking and, when confronted, revile him as a rich person who begrudges them the small living they can eke out. They accuse him of hypocrisy since he is supposedly a man of God yet begrudges their... yes, trespass.

In the story, the minister decides not to press the matter even when the family begins to build a house on his land for immigrating family members. He literally forgives them their trespass with all that entails, namely allowing them to take the land by squatter's rights.

This really made me stop and think. I don't know if I'd be willing to do that, even though I completely agree it's what a Christian saint ought to do.

And having that lodged in my head might have been an influence in my encounter this week with "forgive us our debts". I've had a small debt hanging over me for awhile, and, having recently been blessed with a second job, I had it in mind to pay that as soon as I got my first check. But in the meantime, the creditor decided it was more advantageous to write it off. Hooray!

But then it struck me: what had been forgiven me was about the same amount as a debt owed to me, one I've been collecting -- slowly and painfully -- over the last several years. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant came to mind (Matthew 18:23-35). The servant, having been forgiven a large debt, responds by aggressively trying to collect a small one. Not wanting to be like that, I decided maybe it would be best to pass it on and forgive the longstanding debt owed me. So I did.

I can't tell you how freeing it was! I thought I'd feel like a doormat or "loser", but I didn't realize how much negativity was around the constant process of reminding and collecting. Money debts have a way of being about a lot more than just dollars and cents. They're about who's "right" or "wrong", who's strong or weak, who's polite or rude, who's needy or withholding. And the list goes on.

I thought I'd be relieved to be able to stop keeping track of the account and worrying about it. but what I discovered was the real relief was in laying down the emotional burden of the situation that caused the debt in the first place. Instead of dispensing a favor, I find I've done myself the favor.

Is there a debt or trespass weighing you down this holiday season? One you could forgive, and thereby forget? Give it some thought. It might be the best present you could give not only your debtor but also yourself.