Our Christmas Story
Someone told me recently that they have family members who rarely come to church but that they do come on Christmas Eve because it is their favorite service. The cynic in me couldn’t help but laugh when I heard this, because I wondered how it’s possible for someone to call it their favorite service if it’s the only one they attend!! However, it is a beautiful service for many reasons, and one of my favorites as well. The quiet of night settles on the Sanctuary. In small parishes, where we rarely have evening prayer, the night brings us into a space both familiar and unfamiliar. The smell of evergreen, candles and incense fill us with the sense of season. Music – some of our favorite hymns as well as special pieces – remind us of the tender mercy and love given to all of us.
The Scripture – the Word – tells again the familiar story – the one where good conquers evil and the whole world is saved. And all of this surrounds a child. Our Christmas story doesn’t change over the years. It is the same for always. That’s the best part of the service – the knowing that hope is in the world and the saving love of Christ is the eternal gift we are given.
As we prepare again for the birth of Christ into the world, I pray that you will find the love, peace and joy that Christ’s life gives.
Our Baptismal Covenant Continued Through the Holy Spirit
When we confess to a belief in the Holy Spirit, we complete our belief in a Trinitarian God. With God Creator and Redeemer we try to understand the relationship that this creates. There have been a number of scientific discoveries over the past few years that may help us understand one aspect of the Holy Spirit. Scientists call the stuff that makes up most of the universe – that stuff between the stars, planets and all other heavenly bodies and particles in outer space and on Earth – Dark Matter. They explain that it is invisible but that even thought they cannot see it, they know it exists. It has the property of helping bind all the things we can see together.
The Holy Spirit does the same thing (hmmmmmmmm). God is present with us in every aspect of our lives. God is present in each breath – inhale and exhale. God is present in each heartbeat, in each note of music, in each leaf. God is in the wind and the sunset. God fills the space between us. We’re like fish moving through Holy Water.
Our sense of empowerment and peace comes from knowing that we move in God’s Spirit. That same Spirit tells us when we are not being in tune with God and when we forget to love our neighbors. This is the Spirit that we share with all people. As Christians, our responsibility is to help others realize what a powerful, joyful gift we have all been given. The more closely we listen to the Spirit inside us – by prayerful, humble opening of ourselves – the more secure we become in our faith and the more observant we will be of God’s work in the world.
“Do You Believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?”
In their remarkable work, The Meaning of Jesus, Two Visions, Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright examine important questions surrounding Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection. While these two authors come at each question from very different perspectives, they agree that Jesus is at the core of the faith they practice. When we stop to consider the question presented to us in the Baptismal Covenant and proclaimed by us each week when we repeat the Creed, we find that a lifetime of faith and examination may not be enough to fully understand what it means to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
How does Jesus fit into our everyday lives? What does it mean to have Jesus “present” with us. When someone says that they “know Jesus” what do they mean? The most important question asked of those applying to enter the ordination process is “What does Jesus mean to you?” So, what DOES Jesus mean to you? The Covenant itself gives us some answers. It proclaims that we know Jesus to be the only Son of God; born of a virgin; who suffered, died, was buried, and rose again. It proclaims that Jesus is in heaven and will ultimately judge us.
But, in many ways – all of these statements simply offer up more questions for us and lead us back to our personal relationship with Jesus. Is Jesus fully human? If Jesus was not human then, did he really suffer? If Jesus was not fully human then do we rack up the miracles of bread and fish making and water walking to simple acts of a super natural being? How would such a being relate to the challenges we simple beings face?
On the other hand, if Jesus is fully human, did God the Father use this poor human as a sacrifice for the rest of us? What kind of god does that make the Father if that is so? And why talk about Jesus as if he is still present rather than as someone who died 2 millennia ago? How can Jesus be present with us today? How can Jesus be present in our actions, words and hearts? And if he is coming again – shouldn’t he be here already?
Entire libraries can be filled with books from the ages trying to fully address these questions. So, don’t worry if you can’t give a complete and satisfying answer to these questions. Instead, use them as launching pads to examine your relationship with Jesus. Read the Gospels (the first four books in the New Testament) to journey with Jesus through his life on earth. Consider his teachings, healings, actions and ministry. Be mindful of the temptations thrown at him, the suffering, abandonment and deceits aimed at him. Feel the hope, the mercy, the forgiveness that is offered by him. Experience his impatience with institutional power, his revolutionary actions and his love for the humble. Let the stories of his time on earth breathe life into your vision and then ask yourself, “What does Jesus mean to me?” Then begin to ask questions and to hunger to see both natures in Jesus – Jesus, the man, feeling our struggles, and Jesus as LORD, showing mercy and majesty. Come to realize the ever living presence of Jesus with us today – alive and at work through us and around us.
When you repeat the words of the Nicene Creed or repeat the words of the Baptismal Covenant, think about the ways you feel Christ’s presence in your life – more than just a historical figure – always with us.
God the Father – Creator of Heaven and Earth
In this continuing series concerned with our Baptismal Covenant, we turn our attention to the specific vows we take and what each one means. Each week as we worship, we renew the vows that we took at our baptism. The commitments we made form our Baptismal Covenant. They also form the basis of our Creeds and call us to a new life in Christ – the sign of which was our baptism. In the Service of Baptism, the Covenant begins with this question. “Do you believe in God the Father?”
This is a powerful question. It is very easy in the statements of beliefs to answer routinely and wait for the next question, but nothing that comes after will matter much if we don’t really commit to this first response. “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”
Many people throughout the world question the existence of God. They believe that to accept a creator is to deny the physical laws of the universe and to fall to superstition. I suppose, in an all or nothing society that dominates much of the world, it seems logical to make choices between scientific evidence and spiritual faith. But what may seem to be a dilemma between the science and the faith is not. We are surrounded by the evidence of God’s creative, life-giving force at work in the world and beyond. All the variations and all the connections between each living and each non-living thing show the incredible complexity and the amazing simplicity of a mind greater than our own. Elements and energy dispersed, used, collected and redistributed throughout the universe over time testify to God’s hand. Deep emotions, curiosity and renewal move beyond the pedestrian view of an entirely physical world.
It is reassuring and strengthening to know that God is greater than ourselves – wiser, more merciful, more giving. When we recite this part of our Baptismal Covenant we are proclaiming that we know better than to think we created ourselves. We know better than to think that humans are only the cosmic dust of former stars. We are so much more. We are the transformation of those physical elements into living, breathing, caring, thinking beings who are smart enough to know how to say thank you to our Creator even if we often do not. God doesn’t ask for us to be stupid in our faith. We are not asked to deny physical, universal laws. But we are called to see that all of these laws – the nature of all things is the evidence of God’s creative and living force.
The Baptismal Covenant
Last month I began our series on the Baptismal Covenant by briefly examining the word covenant. This month I want to discuss the act of Baptism itself. I hope that over several months we will journey together more deeply in this exploration of our most important commitment – our promise in baptism – and that by doing so we will better understand the commitment we have made to God and to each other as Christians.
All cultures practice rites of initiation. These rites often become templates for other rituals used within the community. Many of these rituals found within cultures center around the recognition of children passing into maturity. The rituals help mark for the community the traditions of behavior passed from one generation to another. The child is called to recognize that many of the behaviors and possessions of childhood are to be put aside and new behaviors and responsibilities – as well as some new possessions are to be picked up. Usually the child is given instruction about the rituals – their meanings to the society as a whole – and how they are to accept these rituals into their own understanding. In this way the traditions of ritual become preserved and help serve to bind the community together. Those who observe these rituals have usually experienced them as they transitioned from childhood to adulthood, or they are anticipating the time when they will have these rites performed for them.
Jewish communities used baptism as a rite to bring those not born Jews but wishing to be part of the Jewish faith and culture into the community. The person would go through intense instruction and examination. They would be circumcised as part of their initiation and they would be immersed, nude, into water to signify their ”rebirth” as a new person.
John the Baptist used baptism in much the same way – as a way to signify that someone had repented of their sins and was now “reborn” as a person with a new beginning and in a new community of believers. These baptisms signified a commitment on the part of the initiated that they would reject those things in their lives that drew them away from God and would turn their attention to the work of God and to supporting their new community of the faithful.
Jesus set for us the example of baptism as a conscience act of commitment. It is our initiation and promise through action that we will “turn around” to a new life. This new life calls us to place God at the center of our thoughts, hearts and deeds. Baptism, in other words, calls us to new love. This is a love that opens us to all people and allows us to find the joy and mercy of God in each other and all creation.
Imagine how the world would be if everyone who professes to be “born again: into the living Christ approached everyone else in the world as people we are called to love and respect – and saw Christ himself in each person. Striving to keep our Baptismal Covenant is what moves us toward becoming mature members in the community of Christ.
Blessings to You as We Strive Together to Honor Our Covenant
Dear Family in Christ
In my homilies throughout Eastertide and for several Sundays before, I have been stressing the importance of our Baptismal Covenant. There are many ways we live into this covenant - through formal and informal ministries - and there are many ways for us to find the roles we are to play in God’s call to us. While I don’t expect this discussion to be exhaustive on any part of the topic of baptism, I will extend this discussion over several months in this newsletter in order to give us time to reflect on our covenant and the various ways we live into our promises. So, let’s start at the beginning:
When we are baptized, we make promises to God. We refer to these promises as our covenant. A covenant is a contract – and, like all contracts, it’s meant to be taken seriously. As Christians, we are called to live into the promises we make, but we also know that there are going to be times when we fail to keep our part of the bargain – either because of ignorance or because of selfishness. So, it’s also great to know that as Christians, once we recognize that we have fallen, with Christ’s love and forgiveness, we can try to do better next time. Our Baptismal Covenant is a covenant of love. It sets expectations that help us to grow into the spiritually adult disciples God wants us to be. This covenant of love doesn’t give us license to do whatever we wish and then say we’re sorry. Instead, it calls us to love as well. And as we love, our desires change; our needs change; our hopes change and our actions change. This is a covenant that renews us as we live into it – not through fear or punishment, but through the honest, eternal relationship with God that these promises bring us to. The more we live into our Baptismal Covenant, the more we find the person that God’s love meant for us to be.
I offer you a friendly challenge – to read the Baptismal Covenant you made with God every day. It’s found on page 304 in your Book of Common Prayer. It will take 1--‐2 minutes of your time. As the day goes on, try to remind yourself of those things you have committed to. Then, let me know what that exercise does for you as we continue to examine the promises we made.
Living Into the Gift
Christ is risen! Alleluia!! The LORD is risen indeed! Alleluia!!
Happy and joyous Eastertide to all of you! What is it that we are supposed to be feeling deep inside ourselves in order to maintain that joyous celebration that comes with the first Easter Sunday? How are we to make the message of “Christ is risen!” carry us through the next 6 weeks? – or more challenging than that – what are we to do with that message for the rest of our lives? Is it one of those phrases that falls into the vat of ‘feel good’ statements that are pulled out like seasonal decorations, tarnished and worn but still hung out with the changing of the weather? Could we just as well be quoting Tiny Tim, “God bless us every one!” or robotically repeating, “Have a nice day”?
How in the world do we make “Christ is risen” ring true – not just to others, but for ourselves? So many of us live in pain. Not only physical pain – but the pain that comes from the knowledge of our shortcomings, our failures, our crimes – and the refusal to believe that we are worth much of anything because of all that. God loves us – like it or not – acknowledge it or not – without reserve. Christ conquered death so that we don’t have to die for our screw ups. All we have to do – all anyone in the whole world has to do is accept this wonderful gift of life. (For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16) I said not long ago in one of my homilies (just in case you were asleep), that it might be easier for us to accept this gift if there were some obstacles we have to overcome. If there were secret passwords or giant tasks to perform in order to win our salvation, we might find it easier to accept the gift of eternal life offered to each and every one of us. (We hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Rom. 3:28) Or, if eternal life was more exclusive – after all, how special could eternal life be if I’m accepted into the club? These may be the reasons so many of us have difficulty believing in our core of cores and heart of hearts that Christ is risen indeed for us. We refuse to accept that life is gift. Easter becomes real when we are able to take those things that are killing us inside and lay them in front of the open tomb. Easter happens in real time when we allow the love, the grace, the mercy, the strength of the risen LORD to move into the center of our lives. We live when we stop being afraid. Reading scripture, praying for guidance, recognizing that we are loved are the ways we begin acting as people who are loved. Understanding that there is nothing we have done that the mercy of God through faith in Christ cannot make right.
Learning to accept such a wonderful gift is the way that we learn how to be responsible people of faith. God’s voice inside us grows stronger in guidance once we stop the clamor of our confusion and self-loathing. We need to spend more time studying the scriptures in order to strengthen our selves so we can hear God’s love speaking to us. We need to pray and ask for God’s guidance in our lives so we can live in community and see Christ in the faces of our neighbors. These are not difficult things to do. They are habits that need to be acquired and practiced. They require a few minutes each day in return for an eternity of life. Christ is risen and we are given the opportunity to rise with him.
PRIEST IN CHARGE – 2011 Report
Thank you for being present with me at St. Peter’s. Our journey together is a great blessing for me and I am so grateful to know you and be with you. I want to thank you for your continued patience as we maintain our yoking with our sister parish of St. Michael’s in Brigham City. We continue to be blessed by the great work done by people of faith within this community this year. Thank you for your commitment to God, to this parish family, and to the community as a whole.
Within my calling as a priest, I have been blessed with opportunities to grow in organizational skills and leadership. In November 2011, I was asked by the Bishop to Chair the Commission on Ministry in the Diocese. This is an advisory group that assists the Bishop in determining the education and ordination process for prospective clergy, and offers guidance and licensing for lay education and ministry. It is a challenging task – but one I enjoy. The COM is currently working to offer new guidelines to parishes for the licensing and training of Lay Ministers. When the new guidelines are approved by the Bishop, I will hold information and training sessions for interested members of St. Peter’s. I continue to serve on the New Hope Crisis Center Board and on the Food Pantry Board in Brigham City. I am a member of the Interfaith Ministerial Association and the Northern Utah Ministerial Association. I also continue to serve as the Convener for the Northern Clericus in our Diocese. I was asked to submit three articles on Civility to northern region newspapers this year and one article to the Syracuse newspaper on the meaning of Christmas. I am currently organizing the 30th Anniversary Celebration for the New Hope Crisis Center. Along with counseling responsibilities, healing services, visits to nursing and convalescent centers as well as hospitals and private homes, tutoring, training, and worship responsibilities, I try to leave time for my own prayer and spiritual growth. I continue to be a part of a small prayer group that I have been attending for the last 13 years. I also participate in an interdenominational book club that meets twice each month.
This past year saw our support and preparation of The Rev. Susan Fischer to be ordained into the Order of Priests. It was a rewarding experience for me as I worked with Susan – and you made her feel welcome and strong in her ministry. Thank you for your enthusiastic embrace of her new ministry. Preparing for the priesthood is a difficult and long journey. You helped smooth the way for her ordination. Also, thank you for the tremendous work and outpouring of love you gave to her in the preparations for Susan’s ordination. The Bishop’s Committee, the Altar Guild, the Choir, the servers and all those who worked so hard on the reception and the building preparation did wonderful work. Not only did you create a beautiful day for Susan, but you also provided a wonderful example of the ministry of St. Peter’s to the whole Diocese. You made us shine.
In so many activities and times of worship this year, you have demonstrated your faith and devotion. It is a joy and a blessing to share these times with you. Thank you also for allowing me to minister to you when you have been in the hospital or recuperating from illness. Thank you for coming to me when you have needed an ear to listen or a voice of support. Thank you for the blessed times of celebrating Baptism and Confirmation. What a joy! Allowing me to be a part of your lives is a great gift you have given me. I treasure it. I carry in my heart the remembrance of both Barbara Marino and Harold House, and give thanks for being allowed to celebrate their lives with you.
As I have stated many times, I am deeply grateful to my colleague and mentor The Rev. Ivan Cendese, PhD, for his enthusiastic support of this parish and our ministry together. He has been a true God-send to me and I will miss him terribly as I know you will. However, there are many new challenges awaiting Ivan and I know he looks forward to the next portion of his journey with Christ.
I am deeply grateful for the work of the Bishop’s Committee. This Committee has prayerfully and thoughtfully approached parish work and continues to be a great guide for us in the life of this community. Our loving Sunday School teachers have prepared and modeled lessons of love and faith for our children. God bless them for their dedication. Our choir and wonderful organist have led us in the celebration of music and God’s love. The choir has provided us with beautiful music and special cantatas at both Christmas and Easter. What a treat for all of us. Each person in this blessed space who has stepped forward to offer their abilities to God and this community has been a part of what makes St. Peter’s such a wonderful place to worship and laugh together.
Thank you for your ministries and for sharing them with all of us.
Stewardship is at the heart of these ministries. In its most obvious form, stewardship is also what keeps our doors open and the lights turned on. Even in the difficult economic times we have faced as a society, the people of St. Peter’s have committed themselves to thoughtful stewardship of our church. As a mission church of course, we are not able to cover all the costs of maintaining our parish. We are fortunate however, to receive a generous grant from our diocese. In spite of a 10% cut in the monies allocated in this grant (part of the across-the-board cut throughout the diocese) we have not only met our financial obligations, but have made improvements in our worship space and put money into savings. Being wise stewards of what we have been given is always important. One of our challenges as a parish is to find ways to become more financially independent as the grant from the diocese will continue to be steadily reduced over the next few years.
Stewardship is also obvious in the loving care demonstrated through the work of our Building and Grounds ministry, Mike Harris’ work as Sexton, and the beautiful ministries of the Altar Guild and the Artists’ Guild. Beautiful wall hangings, paintings and Altar vestments are examples of your care. Loving hands prepare food for Sunday and gatherings and hand us bulletins as we enter the church. All of these ministries are demonstrations of God at work through us.
I look forward to another year of growing in faith with you. I’m excited about the activities that have already been planned for this year and the possibilities for sharing new ways to build community with each other and the world around us. Thank you again for your graciousness and patience as changes to liturgy, schedules, committees, activities and finances have been made. Your faith and love of God and each other are at the core of St. Peter’s Church.
Yours in Christ
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