Archives for July 2014

Weekly ePistle 7/30/14

The Fortieth Anniversary of the Ordination of Women in the Episcopal Church

July 29, 1974

by the Rev. William P. McLemore
 

“Mary has chosen the better part.”   (Luke 10:42b)

Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary might be a turning point for women in ministry in the Christian church. Martha served, and Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to what he was saying. When Martha complained, Jesus acknowledged her worry and busyness but commended Mary’s interest in theology.   We have evidence that there were women presbyters in the early church but as time passed, the office of ordained ministers became limited to men. [Read more…]

Weekly ePistle 7/23/14

Thoughts from Lori+

I’ve been a priest far too long to hold onto the illusion that there is any such thing as a perfect family. Not only have I never found one – not one – but I’ve come to realize that there simply is no such thing. Every family has its secrets, its lost sheep, its brokenness of one sort or another, its downright craziness! But Lord, how we work to hide it! How we try to compensate or cover it! [Read more…]

Weekly ePistle 7/16/14

Thoughts from Lori+

I have recently been away to take up the role of grandmother while my daughter and son-in-law were on a trip to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. It was a true gift to be able to do that for them and to enjoy the company of one of our grandchildren. It is one of the things that the vestry granted us – two additional weeks of “family time” – when we negotiated a new “letter of agreement” as I transitioned from being your priest-in-charge to being your rector. As I said to them when I accepted this new call, Bill and I both love it here, but it was one thing to come up to Chicagoland for an 18 month adventure as an interim in Wilmette, but quite something else to make it long-term. Our only hesitation was that we are so far from our children and grandchildren. This additional family time is a generous gesture, and we thank you. [Read more…]

Sermon, 7/20/14, The Rev. Lori M. Lowe

Pentecost  VI (Proper 11 A)                                                St. Paul’s McHenry

July 20, 2014                                                                            

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

For two Sundays in a row, we’ve heard versions of parables involving farmers planting their crops.  In the version we heard last week, the so-called Parable of the Sower, Jesus describes a farmer who sows his seed extravagantly, so that it lands on rocks, hard scrabble, and on good soil alike. And if you were here last week, you’ll remember that I talked about how Jesus used parables; how they had various possible meanings, and the way these little stories were meant to send people away scratching their heads and wondering what Jesus meant. And I also talked about how Matthew just couldn’t resist explaining it and turning it into an analogy, meaning no harm, of course.  He was just trying to help his young church understand.

Today – just a few verses later in the Gospel of Matthew – we have Jesus once again telling a story about a farmer sowing his fields.  In this version, known as the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, “an enemy” (that’s code for The Devil) comes behind the farmer and sows weeds.

“Master… do you want us to go and gather [the weeds]?” his workers asked.  But the farmer says, “No.  If you do that, you’ll uproot the wheat with the weeds.  Just let both of them grow together until the harvest.” Now, I’m not much of a gardener, but my mother was.  She grew everything from fabulous southern azaleas to roses and zinnias, and the lawn to show them off. One of the things I remember about her puttering in our yard was her constant vigilance for weeds.  A weed could hardly break the soil before she snatched it up.

I’m not a farmer either, so I did a little research to find out more about farming in 1st century Palestine; you know, just to get a feel for what Jesus’ listeners might have been thinking as he told this parable. It would seem that my mother wasn’t too far off.  Those farmers listening to Jesus would have really been scratching their heads and likely thinking, This carpenter doesn’t know much about farming, does he! Actually, there are several things in Jesus’ story that would have tipped off his listeners that this story wasn’t exactly on the up-and-up.  For instance, since weeds were common enough, why would “an enemy” need to sow them?

Furthermore, it was common practice to remove weeds two or three times during the growing season and to bundle them up to be used as much needed fuel. So you see, right from the beginning, they knew something unusual is coming.  ‘Let the wheat and the tares grow up together’ is probably not what a farmer – or modern day gardener, for that matter – would be expecting to hear. All that being said, now we have another sort of problem.  It’s about the interpretation of the parable – the part in which each element of the parable is assigned a meaning and explained, which was quite unlike Jesus when he told stories and parables.

We are challenged to discern how much of all this Jesus may have actually said… and how much of it may have been Matthew’s well-intentioned expansion for the sake of his fledgling community. We do this discernment with prayer, scholarship, and the God-given gift of intellect.  In the end, most scholars agree that Matthew added the allegory; the part that explains that the weeds represent evil and will be burned in what sounds an awful lot like hell.

Matthew’s church, like all churches, was undoubtedly caught in the tension between their sense of obligation to call people to lives of goodness and holiness… and their desire to offer all comers the gift of acceptance and forgiveness. We, too, experience that tension.  In addition, most of us are keenly aware of living in a time of terrible, general belligerence.  Everything, every disagreement, is a potential battleground. This contentiousness pervades the international scene, our national politics, our communities and parishes,  and sometimes right down to families.  I don’t even need to offer examples, because I’m pretty sure you’ve immediately thought of several. It’s a contentiousness borne of pseudo-righteousness and judgmentalism.

Actually, that’s a word I just made up.  I made it up because I wanted to emphasize the difference between judgment and the form of judgment that really must end in “–ism”; thus, judgmentalism. I mean this to highlight the difference between conviction and rigidity, between passion and fanaticism. We have allowed rigidity and fanaticism to infect the air we breathe.  Christian fanatics, Jewish fanatics, Muslim fanatics; political fanatics of all sorts.  And in truth, fanatics of all stripes are dangerous.

But if I understand Jesus at all, if I understand this parable at all, we are to focus on nurturing goodness, promoting reconciliation, and healing divisions. The world is full of hatefulness, greed, meanness, full of violence which will threaten the good seed, but we are to sow love and kindness and forgiveness. If Jesus is to be taken seriously, we are to trust that love will overcome the madness, greed, and hate; and that God will suffice.  We are, in fact, to trust that God in Christ has already won the victory.

Is this passive?  Is it pie-in-the-sky theology?  I don’t believe so, if only because I know from experience that sowing love and kindness and forgiveness is the hardest work there is.  But when those things take root in the human heart, when they form the foundation of all that we do, then the Reign of God shines through the darkness.

There are glimpses all around.  Take for instance:

  • Kids for Peace, which brings together children from conflicted groups.  It started with Catholic and Protestant kids from Northern Ireland with life-altering results, and has expanded to children from Jewish and Muslim communities in the Middle East.
  • Most of us can remember the commitment to non-violence in the American Civil Rights Movement; the courage and bravery of the men and women who stood peacefully for justice.
  • There was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa which almost certainly prevented a bloodbath when Apartheid ended.
  • And there are organizations and ministries all over the country and the world reaching out to help those most in need, such as Heifer International, Episcopal Relief and Development, our own Diaper Bank and Betts’ Place.

This is a list that could go on and on.  These glimpses are visible at every level of human society. I remember a story I heard some years ago that made a deep impression on me.  It was about a neighborhood, an ordinary suburban neighborhood, into which a single Jewish family moved. During the holidays, when all the Christian families had their Christmas trees on display, this one family had their menorah in their front window. One night, someone threw a rock through that window and shouted anti-Semitic slurs as they drove by.  The next day, every window in the neighborhood quietly displayed a menorah.

I love that story.  It reminds me that there are many ways to sow love and kindness and forgiveness.

  • It reminds me that we are all part of the same human family;
  • that we are in the same boat;
  • that we will all sink or swim together;
  • and that the final outcome is in God’s hands.

So let the wheat and the tares grow up together.  In the end, it may not be so much a matter of who among us is evil and who is righteous; of who will be cast out and who will be invited into the heavenly kingdom. Given the extravagant mercy of God, it’s more likely that it will be about the good and evil, the love and hatred that grows in each of us, and that when the Kingdom of God is fulfilled, God will sort out the weeds that clutter each of our hearts… so that we will all be invited into the Kingdom.

Meanwhile, we are to do the best we can to sow love and kindness and forgiveness; and to remember that in God’s mercy, God is allowing the wheat and tares in the world – and in us – to grow together until the harvest.

Lori Lowe +

Sermon, 7/13/14, The Rev. Lori M. Lowe

Pentecost IV (Proper 10 A)                                                 St. Paul’s

July 13, 2014                                                                                McHenry

 May the word of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Let me start my reflection – and this is more a reflection today than a sermon – with a couple of points of clarification.  First, we use the term “gospel” to describe the four versions of the story of Jesus that are part of the canon of scripture – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, our reading this morning being from the Gospel of Matthew. But the basic meaning of “the gospel” is this: the good news of the love of God revealed in Jesus.  Or put more simply, the good news of God in Christ. 

The second point of clarification is about parables.  A parable – one of the main vehicles Jesus used in his teaching – is by definition a succinct story meant to be instructive.  One of the characteristics of a true parable is that it doesn’t necessarily have only one meaning.  When Jesus tells a parable, his listeners are left to ponder what the heck that meant!  And while it’s tempting to turn a parable into a fable or morality tale, or to turn it into an analogy, giving each element of the story a meaning, Jesus rarely if ever did that.  He seemed to have loved to let people go away scratching their heads.

Point in case: the Parable of the Sower.  Jesus told this concise little story about a farmer who spread his seeds randomly and, one might even say, extravagantly.  Some lived, some died, some thrived.  That’s it.  Just that.  He wrapped it up with, “Let anyone with ears listen!”

Then, according to faithful scholars, Matthew just couldn’t stand it – leaving it hanging like that.  So in his account of this story, he added his analogy, explaining what each element of the story represented.  It’s not a bad analogy, as analogies go. But his explanation cheats us of the opportunity to go away scratching our heads and pondering what Jesus might have meant; cheats us of having to work at opening our ears – our minds and hearts.

It’s a wonderful parable, don’t you think?  One that fits nicely into the images of sowing and reaping that we read in the Old and New Testaments.  Take for instance these examples:

Job 4:8  … those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.

Proverbs 22:8   Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity…

Galatians 6:7-8  You reap whatever you sow…

2 Corinthians 9:6  …whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

Quite simply, what we sow is what we reap.

  • If we sow violence, we will reap violence.
  • If we sow anger, we will reap anger.
  • If we sow – that is, if we tolerate, allow, or participate in injustice, WE WILL REAP NOT ONLY INJUSTICE FOR OURSELVES,

BUT THE FRUITS OF INJUSTICE WILL BE HATRED, RESENTMENT, AND WAR.

On the other hand, what would be the fruits of our sowing if we sowed compassion, justice, forgiveness, and love?  Let me give you a minute to imagine that…   (Feel free to scratch your heads.)  Ponder now this quote from the Honorable John Lewis, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement side-by-side with Dr. King, and now Congressional Representative from my home state of Georgia:

[paraphrased] “We may have come here on many different ships, but now we’re all in the same boat.”

He reminds us that, except for Native Americans, we are all immigrants.  That being said, we are one nation, “…we’re all in the same boat.” I find myself thinking about that a lot lately; the idea that we are all in the same boat.  About the idea that those few men and women who have gone into space all say the same thing – that there are no borders visible from space. It’s very theological, of course, as in the prayer of Jesus that we all are one even as he and God are one.  Not just Christians, we must understand, but all of us… all people, all creatures, all creation.

What I’m beating around the bush about is the issue of these thousands of children who have come like “huddled masses” to our shores; literally to our borders.  Some are so young that I cringe at the desperation of their parents, their mothers and fathers, who sent them off into the unknown. To my mind, this is not an immigration issue.  This is a human issue, a refugee issue.  And they are children.  Texas, Nevada, California, all along the Gulf coast, anywhere along our southern borders. One town held a protest rally, demanding that these intruders be turned back, deported immediately.  Others have found places in their communities to provide shelter, food, beds for the children at their door.

Each will reap what they have sown.

All this may seem far away from McHenry.  But it turns out that several hundred of these children are being sheltered in Chicago.  It also turns out that we have hungry children right here in McHenry; and that is a conversation we will have very soon.  But for now, I’m trying to imagine what would it take for me to give all the money I have, everything, to a stranger who promised to take my child to an unknown destination and leave him there?  Such a thing seems inconceivable to me in my comfortable, sheltered world.  On the receiving end, I’m trying to imagine how we are to respond to this tragedy through the lenses of the gospel, through the lenses of the love of God in Christ Jesus.

I’m trying to think of what we might sow and what we might reap:

  • What will we reap if we sow indignation and rejection?
  • What will we reap if we sow love and compassion?

(Head scratching may be appropriate.)

Hear then this parable:

There was a gardener who had many workers.  This gardener allowed each of the workers in this garden to plant, tend, and harvest in any way they liked. One of the workers was insecure and anxious, so he or she (it doesn’t matter which) put a fence around his portion of the garden, put out poison to keep away the critters who kept trying to take a tomato or two, and who worked hard to protect what was his. Another of the workers preferred to ignore the gardening with the result that nothing much grew, and what did grow wasn’t very productive.  Even the critters didn’t much bother with it.  Another worker partnered up with several others to share the work and the bounty.  Their garden flourished and provided more than enough for them, their less fruitful neighbors, and even the critters. 

Let those with ears to hear, listen.

Lori +

Weekly ePistle July 9, 2014

Thoughts from Lori+

Stories. Stories may be the single most important thing that connects us as human beings across all divides. Some years ago, I knew a couple – both therapists – who decided to up and move to Hawaii. One of their early observations about the people of Hawaii was that they were, as a group, the most emotionally healthy people they had ever met, largely because they were storytellers. (I can only presume that they made a living by treating transplants from the mainland who were experiencing island fever!) It seems that storytelling has a healing, almost sacred effect on the psyche. When our stories are shared, we come to know ourselves and each other more deeply. And we come to see how much we have in common because our stories are almost always about our hopes and dreams, our fears and disappointments, our loves lost and loves found. Our stories might be the most genuinely intimate parts of ourselves that we have to share.

[Read more…]

St. Paul’s Parish Picnic 2014

 Summer Parish Picnic

Sunday, August 3rd

Mark your calendars now for the Summer Parish Picnic – Sunday, August 3rd at 4:00 pm. If you were here for last year’s picnic, you already know you don’t want to miss it. But if you weren’t, here’s your chance to get in on the fun and fabulous food. Look for more detailed information in the coming weeks.