Chapter 22, Page 175 — Forward in Faith November 2016

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Chapter 22, Page 175 – Forward in Faith

“The place God calls you to be is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” 

Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner

“… and the fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”  Galatians 5:22-23


“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love … I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:9-12

I recently officiated the burial office for a young husband and father, the circumstances of his death sudden and tragic. As I learned more of his life, his hopes, and his loves, the reading from John’s Gospel, and singing Beethoven’s Hymn to Joy, came clear and a necessary part in the celebration of his life. I encountered some questions about these selections. My response was that we, as Christian, are people of the Incarnation AND Resurrection. We are a people who bear the fullness of the life, death, and eternal life of our Lord Jesus Christ in our living now, and our spirit that can live on in the lives of those whom we touch in this mortal journey. We can live like this, and we can live like this now, with JOY.

The words of Jesus in the Last Supper discourse of John are words that express what joy Jesus desires in days to come for his disciples, days that will not be real joyful as we tend to define joy in our times. For much of the world, joy is the thing that makes me happy now, satisfies me now, and fulfills my life nowthe instant gratification syndrome where we tend to live on the surface of our cyber-social connected life. Yet real joy emerges in life through celebration and despair, wholeness and needed healing, in life and in death. Frederick Buechner writes, “Happiness turns up more or less where you would expect it to – a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy, on the other hand, is a notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it.”

If we live as people of the Incarnation AND Resurrection, we know how it feels and what it looks like to live INTO our joy through all the vagaries of life. We can live like the praise of the psalmist, “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to God’s holy name … God’s favor is for a lifetime .Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” [30:4-5]. It is living into a life that is for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness in health, until we are parted by death. It is THIS joy we live in a life of faith. It is THIS joy that can be seen by our world around us.

In his book of daily meditations, Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen captures the essence of a life of faith lived in joy through hope – “The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go … Hope is the trust that God will fulfill God’s promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands.”

I led a retreat some years ago in which I used various rocks as an example of how the fruits of the Spirit can be lived even in the hardness that life can bring, sometimes feeling as hard as rocks pounding against our aching body and soul. I have been keeping the rock with JOY written upon it as my prayer partner, holding his wife and two young children in prayer each day. It seems to me the continuing call of a family of faith, claiming Jesus Christ as we are, to be with others through the highest heaven, and the valley of the shadow of death, with the JOY in knowing we are never, never alone.

This is what being church is all about, now and eternally. This is the ROCK we are called to be and bear into our world all around us … the ROCK that is JOY!

With gratefulness always, your servant in Christ

Fr. Paul+

Chapter 22, Page 175 — Forward in Faith, October

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“The place God calls you to be is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner


“… the fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” Galatians 5:22-23


“What’s love got to do with it … What’s love but a second-hand emotion.” These heart wrenching lyrics, belted out in the husky voice of Tina Turner, was a powerful statement in her life during the darkest times of her relationship with then partner and husband Ike Turner. If we spend much time watching network or online news of the world’s workings in our day, societal, political, and even theological, it may bear the weight of what seems to be the reactionary mode of many people. Leading from a place of fear not faith, we look for a sanctuary of those people and places where the way of LOVE is part and parcel of who they are and how they live. Communities of faith are supposed to be those places and people where one will find this kind of love. However, too often all the “right words” are spoken without “right actions.” The plaintive cry of another raspy voiced character from the Wendy’s commercial, “Where’s the BEEF?” becomes our question “Where’s the LOVE?”

“What’s love got to do with it … What’s love but a second-hand emotion.” Over the past two years, your Vestry leaders have prayed, pondered, prepared, parsed, and prayed more toward a renewed mission and vision statement. A mission/vision that looks back at who we are as a people called, and who we are becoming into our next future. The mission and vision statement was unanimously adopted at this year’s Vestry retreat. It has been prominent on our many communication modes, particularly on the front of the weekly worship bulletin. Here is what they have said, what they commit to embrace …

“Nourished at Christ’s table and stepping forward in faith, WE are instruments of God’s love, serving our parish family, the University of Delaware, our community, and God’s creation.”

I have taken liberty to capitalize and italicize the section that really calls for embracing and living by all – WE are instruments of God’s love. While this rolls off the tongue rather easily, LIVING this way takes intention, compassion, and “un-not-ing” as I recently read an article on spiritual living and the challenge of living so. One story in particular speaks to our renewed vision of BEING God’s love here and now …

“On a Thursday night I will sometimes go to a community meal sponsored by my church. We host this meal as an opportunity to be compassionate neighbors to one another. However, as my table waited to be served, I realized we would be given bowls of soup and plates of food that had been on sitting on the cart for a while. I began to become agitated, to fear that MY food would be cold … I realized my fear and my need of laying down our shallow preferences: preferences for being in control, being on time, having the cushions on the sofa a certain way, for having piping hot food and my table served first – for whatever! The lesson is about learning to release my immediate preference in order to notice the needs of others around me … Community life schools us in compassion as we get to practice letting go again and again in order to be present to those around us … Our cultural climate emphasizes disagreement, parties, and factions. We are invited to define ourselves by what we are NOT, by what we are against … Rather than being a mere bundle of NOTS, might each of us be a complex gathering of BOTH/ANDS …

In his poem “Pied Beauty” Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “Glory be to God for dappled things … All things counter, original, spare, strange … With swift, slow, sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change; Praise him.” … To be willingly BOTH/AND rather than NOT within ourselves means learning to acknowledge our internal paradoxes and contradictions, to accept and to love our dappled share in God’s infinitely dappled grace.” “Weavings. Volume XXXI, #4. Pages 22-23, 27-29.

We enter the month of October remembering the life and witness of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of all God’s creation and created. We set aside this time in a special service of blessing upon our family pets – dogs, cats, birds, and other creatures we hold near and dear. We see countless statues of St. Francis in many garden settings, serenely standing with bird perched on his hand, squirrel on his shoulder. We like the “garden variety” St. Francis – but the call to a life of downward mobility, self-emptying to be a Love filled vessel, and constant UN-NOT-ING to live open, free, and compassion-filled life is not necessarily the path we might choose. When you sit in worship on Sunday morning, take a moment to think about and feel surrounded by the saints of St. Thomas’s over 175 years, the very ones whose shoulders we stand to have this gift of worship, freedom, and service in our day.

WE are the shoulders that will lead into and beyond our 175th anniversary year. WE are the instruments of God’s love seeking and serving God and Christ Jesus, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and respecting the dignity of EVERY human being. WE are the living, breathing answer now, and in our future, to the question, “What’s love got to do with it?”

With gratefulness always, your servant in Christ

Fr. Paul+