Final Parish New Year’s Resolution

I like groups of 3—very Trinitarian. So we have 3 resolutions: practice offering yourself in love, commit to adult formation learning more about God and your faith, and the final one, hopefully the easiest, come to church.

We need you here. The Body of Christ is not complete without you.

I realize it is a new world. I realize life is complicated. I realize there are other commitments and obligations that vie for your time. I realize sometimes you just need a day to sleep in. I realize that the world is crazy and it seems that we have lost touch with God. Me too.

We need you here. The Body of Christ is not complete without you.

I could mention that many people that work so hard to make church lovely and meaningful. We work all week to prepare music and readings, practice and make sure we have help, print bulletins. We want everyone who comes to feel welcome and have an easy time participating and understanding. I think we do a good job, and I want to thank the ushers, the altar guild, the chalice bearers, the choir, the acolytes, the staff, people who clean and decorate, the properties committee—everyone who offers themselves to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

We need you here. The Body of Christ is not complete without you.

I could also mention that we keep statistics measuring Average Sunday Attendance, which we report to the diocese and national church every year. Our growth and health is measured this way and makes a difference in funding and support. Our church attendance needs to keep growing. People pay attention.

We need you here. The Body of Christ is not complete without you.

But all of these things aside, we need to be a part of a worshiping community to be a whole, healthy, holy person. We need each other. We need to worship. Need it, deeply. We are drawn to God like a magnet, and we know God best when we are together doing God’s work, living into our baptismal vows, celebrating our blessings and praying for our needs, getting motivated with carry the love of Jesus into the world.

We need you here. The Body of Christ is not complete without you.

Please make a commitment of regular attendance to church on Sunday in 2018.

Parish New Year’s Resolution #2

I like lists. So there will be a short list of resolutions. And the second one is adult education. I would like the parish adults to be more active and intentional about learning more about God and the church. Studies show that churches whose adults care about growing in their faith are more successful, more likely to grow. We need to bump up our efforts.

And luckily I have a plan. The diocese has offered us a free year trial of an online adult education program. This will supplement the wonderful work that Rev. David Hill does on Sunday morning, and maybe even overlap!

In order to help us make the best use of this, the diocese has also given us money to hire The Rev. Joshua Caler to help us kick this off. Many of you met Rev. Caler when he took the services when I was in the Holy Land. He is going to study the program, introduce it to the parish, and hopefully present to us an online study option for Lent. Expect him to pick your brains about what you need and the best way to help you to learn.

Our hearts are filled with a deep desire for God. We are pulled toward God like a magnet. God wants us to know God more, to pursue God. We do that through prayer, reading the Bible, knowing the saints and the history of the church, and teasing out theological concepts. Follow your impulse to God, and we will find ways to know more together.

Epiphany!

As we endure the extremely cold weather that reminds me daily of the Christmas hymn In the Bleak Midwinter, we have left Advent hymns for another year and are moving quickly towards the season of Epiphany, starting on January 6, when we remember that Jesus came to all people. Like Advent hymns and Christmas carols, I find the Epiphany hymns tend to foreshadow his ministry and death, so that even as we sing

“Star of wonder, star of night,
“Star with royal beauty bright,
“Westward leading,still proceeding,
” Guide us to thy perfect light.”

We know that soon the verse will be

“Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
“Breathes a life of gathering gloom,
“Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
“Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”

Our priest Gayle returned recently from a tour of the Holy Land, bringing with her healing oil containing myrrh. A bitter perfume indeed, and one that lingers, it was the first time I have encountered it.

We are so accustomed to carols and manger scenes that include the Magi that it’s easy to forget that by the time of their arrival Jesus was two or three years old and presumably no longer using a manger for his bed, but I do find it disquieting to be reminded of all that awaits him. So the final verse reminds us,

“Glorious now behold him arise,
“King and God and sacrifice,
“Alleluia, alleluia,
“Earth to heaven replies.”

Parish New Year’s Resolution #1

Happy New Year everyone! This is the time of year to look ahead and try to do better, to assess and plan. So I will be offering the church 3 resolutions to ponder, 3 ways to do a little better in 2018. St. John’s is doing great, but God is always moving us to more. So the first resolution is: to do better at offering ourselves as a living sacrifice. Let’s start big and bold!!

I spent most of last week with my family. My boys are always competing with each other, and wanting to hear that they are special. And of course they are, each with their own gifts and goodness. It was the grandchildren that really captivated my attention though. They are little- 3, 2, and 1. And you can just see them figuring out how to navigate the world, experimenting with relationships and behavior to learn how they want to be.

Life for my grandkids is a marvelous science project. They tried out sharing, dancing, putting toys down the sink. They continually looked back at their parents to see the reaction to whatever it was they were trying out. Sometimes they needed affirmation, and sometimes not. Learning to share, take turns, say sorry—it is hard work! Constant hugs and high fives were necessary to reinforce good behavior. We adults need to make civil and loving behavior worth it, both by demonstrating it and by valuing it.

Church is in many ways the same. We come to church trying out how to be our best selves, how to be good, how God might want us to be. And we don’t expect that there might be conflict, that people might not behave or cooperate the way we want them to, that we might be frustrated. Thankfully that doesn’t happen all the time. But it does happen. Lesson #1 is that everyone, everyone has challenges and hard times, even when it seems like it is only me who struggles.

Because there is so much happening, and because we all care so much about God and this church, disagreement and competing priorities are inevitable. So how do we respond to that? Most of the time, great. We respond in love, we are kind, we forgive. But sometimes it isn’t that easy. And that is when we have to offer ourselves. That is when we have to give up being right or getting our way. That is when we have to put aside our needs and serve someone else. That is when we offer love, kindness, compassion and/or understanding.

We have an opportunity to use church as a grand experiment, and then take the learnings from that into the world. If we can get it right at church, the compassion and kindness and sacrifice, then we can practice it in our lives during the week. But we have to be intentional. We have to believe it is possible. And we have to look for situations in which we feel frustrated and can offer ourselves into that moment as an offering of love. Not by brute force, but by the simple acknowledgement that we will not always get our way, and that is just fine.

So, for our first new year’s resolution, I propose that we get better at loving one another. It seems the best place to begin.

Staying Connected

I am in that between space. I have one foot in Israel. I am getting posts from our pilgrim group. I am walking by the icons and art that I bought there to remind me of the trip. I still have vivid images of sights and sounds. A piece of my heart is there. And frankly, I am still a little exhausted.

And yet here I am, another tremendous Christmas celebration in the books, my grandson playing trains in my family room, the remains of the roast a soup cooking on the stove. My house is clean, and I am getting ready to go to Chicago and Indy to see the rest of my family. Life keeps hurdling forward at breakneck speed, and I want to be present to all of it.

How do I stay connected to the Holy Land? How do I pray? How do I hold on to the mystery and awe, the heartbreak and the urgency? Because this was not another continuing ed workshop that got me through a few sermons and thoughts of some new programming. This was a past and a present struggling for a future. Part of it my past, who I am and what I believe. Jerusalem is now mine, along with millions of others.

I don’t know the answer. Life doesn’t stop. So a new question is, how will I be changed and what will that mean in my life? That seems a worthy thing to pray about for now.

Have a Hopeful Advent and a Peaceful New Year

Sure, I love giving and getting presents. I like the good cheer at the Holiday and of course being with family. I love the office parties. I love all of that, but also there are other aspects of Christmas that are important to me, the memories and reflection of the year gone past. I often these feeling are accompanied by feeling gratitude for God’s blessings. With this there is the beginnings of a sense of renewal, a new hope in the air.

I start to see the possibilities for a better world, one more at peace then the year before. Not perfect peace, that takes time, just more peaceful. I beginning to hope for less hate and more love in the world in the coming months. I become expectant of the good in people, giving them the benefit of the doubt, with optimism, hope., and seeing the better nature of ourselves. These things I will seek out.

Sure, I will still get angry with others this year, but maybe I’ll lighten up a bit more, have more patience. Sure bad things will happen along with the good things, I’ll try to focus more on the good than the bad.

Maybe if we all did a little better next year the world will become a little better, and the year after that, and after that. It only takes one step at a time to change the world and a whole lot of love.

Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year.

G.R.Walker

Iyad’s Cousins

I am back from my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I wanted to blog with you while I was gone, kind of an accompaniment to the trip. But truly every time I tried to write something I had technical difficulties, which led me to believe that maybe God was saying to slow down and pay attention, to just be. I will be unpacking the events and emotions of this trip for a long time to come. Here is my first reflection.

I spent some time last night when I got home, and again this morning, unpacking stuff. I confess I bought a lot of stuff.  But here is how it went, we would get off the massive tour bus to go somewhere, and our guide, Iyad, would say, here are some of my cousins, they have good things at good prices, it would be great if you would help them. We all knew by the end that most of the people who were there certainly knew Iyad, but probably weren’t related.

But at the end, just as we were getting ready to get off the bus, after he had told us what to do and where to go, the time we were supposed to be back, or whatever was important, he would add almost under his breath, help them if you can, it might be all they have for their supper tonight.

It was the off season (the weather was great, cool and sunny), and there were not many tourists around (everything was cheaper). For us that meant no lines, quick service, great prices, and no heat exhaustion. For the venders, many of whom handcrafted their items, many of whom lived in isolated places, that meant there were fewer people to sell to, less chance of making enough money to feed their families.

So we bought things. My family and friends will have a good Christmas this year. We bought because the items were beautiful and represented the Holy Land. We bought because we imagined having to return home to hungry children. We bought knowing that was our role, to stimulate the economy for people in need. I wonder in this holiday season, when tourists are at home and travelers are few, what will happen to Iyad’s cousins and their families. Because in my Christian life, they are my cousins too.  It is just one of the many things I will be praying about this Christmas season.

Bethlehem

I think I am re-entering normal life with some dignity after my pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  My laundry is done, my bills are sent, my kitchen is cleaned. I am reasonably ready for Christmas, with most details taken care of. And while I am not over jet lag, I don’t think it is dangerous for me to be behind the wheel of a car.

I wrote my Christmas morning sermon this morning. Not a bad effort, filled with a good mix of archeology and hope and personal responsibility. You know, it’s Christmas. You want to be peaceful and hopeful and celebratory. So I tried to write something to that effect.

But I am haunted by something that I chose not to mention. Bethlehem. The scene of the birth of our Savior, of the shepherds in the field and away in the manger is surrounded by a wall. It is a wall built for political reasons, and keeps the people of that town essentially in prison. There is a house that is surrounded on 3 sides by the wall. To enter or leave the city you have to pass through a checkpoint, and armed soldiers determine if you go or not.

You see, the thing I am not ready to preach about yet is occupation. There are people in Israel who are not free. And if anything helped me to understand better the life of Jesus and the disciples, it was this experience of occupation, listening to the voices of those who are not free but long for freedom, who are not treated fairly but long for justice.

I do not live that way. I am reasonably free. I can mostly say what I want. I can come and go without restraint in my own country. But Jesus could not. And neither can the people of Bethlehem. I am not yet sure what to do with that, how I will preach it, or what will come of my efforts. But I had to say it, to acknowledge the fact. Bethlehem is surrounded by a wall, and this reality changed me.

My Thought on God

I do not know why I am writing this. I grew up un-churched. As a young man and teenager, I considered myself an atheist. I guess, I started seriously considering the possibility of a concept of some sort of god when I was in college. It was a time of discovery in science, “Punctuated Equilibrium” in evolutionary biology, “Catalytic RNAs” in molecular (fundamental) biology and articulation of the “Big Bang” in Physics that set me on a re-evaluation of ‘God”. I also read some quotes from Einstein, about his think on god, as being non-anthropomorphic, and a need for a more transcendental view of God. As life goes on and personal experiences accumulate one depends their relationship with existence. One discovers the limits of their own understanding, especially scientists do. I have met many believing scientists, but none of them literalists in biblical interpretation. Like I, I believe they believe that the true wonder of the scriptures lays in the interpretation, the stories the metaphors

In my opinion, the thing that links Science and serious Theology together, forever, is that they both seek fundamental truth about existence. Like two sides of the same coin, they both are seeking the same and each is equally valid. The corruption of the world builds false a conflict between the two. We must all seek truth for that truly touches the divine.

I remember when I started to entertain the concept in God. It was sometime when I was single and working in the summer to put myself through college. I was on the top of Lookout Mountain outside of Denver Colorado one weekend (all my friends had girlfriends and I did not). My thoughts turned to, why are we all expected to believe that God is human like? God is well beyond that, more fundamental, more profound, deeper, all embracing… ‘That that gives everything existence’, a loving power.

It started there, as for the rest, it is a journey I am still on.

Advent Musings

I like Advent, it’s one of my favorite church seasons. A time of waiting for Christmas and so much more. The Advent hymns, that we get to sing only at this time of year, seem to me to have a quality of austerity about them, perhaps because they are ancient, some going back to Latin and Greek. Sung for centuries, they link us with the early church, reminding us that we are part of a 2000 year old tradition of people trying to understand the full meaning of this season, of waiting for light in darkness, waiting to celebrate Christmas, but also waiting for Christ’s return, for the salvation of creation. But at any time Christ is near, waiting for us to awaken to his loving presence and invite him into our lives. Just as the window at St. John’s, The Light of the World, shows, he is there, waiting for us to open the door so he may enter and live in our hearts.