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Monday, February 28, 2011

Keeping Supporting Your Local Sailor!

Henry Carnevale has completed his Navy basic training and headed off to Submarine School. As his friends and cheering section at Saint Mark's, let's keep his name coming up at mail call...and now he can receive packages, too (cookies, anyone?).

Henry Carnevale
Anchor Mail
P.O Box 820 #225
Groton, CT 06340-0820

Henry Carnevale
Bldg 484, Box #225
New London Submarine Base
Groton, CT 06349-0820


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Which Jesus?

Epiphany 8 Year A; Matthew 6:24-34

February 27, 2011

The Rev. Bob Honeychurch

This past Christmas, I received a gift that I had been angling for, and dropping ever-so-subtle hints about, for months. I got my very own Amazon Kindle. Many of you know that I travel quite a bit, and a Kindle is a great way to carry along thousands of books at the same time wherever I go, all packaged electronically into one small devise. One of the other cool features of a Kindle is that I can email myself documents, and actually use it to hold things like my sermon that I’m preaching this morning.

If you know much about an Amazon Kindle – or its electronic siblings produced by other companies – you know that you can peruse electronic bookstores and with the click of button purchase a book at a considerably lower cost than buying the same book in paper form. This at least partly explains the guy in downtown Pasadena standing out at the corner with a big sign announcing the “going out of business” sale for the Borders Bookstore on South Lake.

One of the other great features of a Kindle is that, in addition to making thousands of books available at a relatively low cost, it also makes lots and lots of books available for no charge at all… books whose copyright has entered the public domain – classics like Treasure Island or The Secret Garden or The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Also, lots of lesser-known authors trying to get their foot in the literary door will sometimes release one of their books for free, just to get their works into the hands of the reading public, in the hope that they’ll return and pay for other books by the same author.

That’s how I came across one particular book a few weeks ago. Admittedly, the main reason it caught my eye was that it was free. But the other thing about this book that lured me in was its title… Imaginary Jesus, by Matt Mikalatos. It’s a fun, fairly mindless story set in Portland OR, written from a confidently Christian perspective, of the main character’s search for the “real” Jesus amidst a sea of “imaginary Jesus” pretenders all vying for his attention and his affection and his loyalty. So, along the way we meet Magic 8 Ball Jesus (the one who will give you an answer to any question, so long as the answer is “yes”, “no”, or “ask me later”), and Liberal Social Services Jesus (the one who thinks that the best way to tell people about God is through service… but without ever talking about God), and Conservative Truth-Telling Jesus (who doesn’t have any arms, and thinks that the only way to tell people about God is through hard truth, but never raises a hand to help people with their physical needs), and Bargaining Jesus (the Jesus who will always answer your prayers… but only for a price), and King James Jesus (who only speaks in 16th century Elizabethan English), and You-Should-Get-A-Divorce-and-Marry-a-Younger-Woman Jesus (which is fairly self explanatory), and Political Power Jesus (who wants to legislate “family values”). The list goes on and on.

I was reminded of these many “imaginary Jesuses” as I read this morning’s gospel lesson… because I think that in this text we have to come to terms with an “imaginary Jesus” who raises his head for us 21st century Christians in a particularly pernicious way. The opening words of today’s gospel quote Jesus as saying, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Now the great tension in reading the New Testament is hearing the words of 1st century speakers with our 21st century ears. And one of the great challenges for us 21st century Christians (many of us, like myself, who are really 20th century Christians still trying to make sense of life in the 21st century) is that the world we live in, the values which have shaped us, the commonly-held standards and assumptions by which we pattern our lives, are simply not the same for Jesus and the other characters of the New Testament (not to mention the Old Testament which was written many, many years earlier).

The Imaginary Jesus that shows up for many of us when we hear today’s gospel is the one we might call Dualism Jesus. Dualism Jesus came on the scene in the past few hundred years, and tries to convince us that he’s been there all along. Dualism Jesus goes hand-in-hand with Age of Enlightenment… creating a worldview which separates all of life into two opposing polarities. So we divide the world into the sacred and the secular, good and bad, light and dark, in and out. We believe that we can distill all of life to binary code, where everything gets boiled down to choosing between one of two options.

And then, once we have convinced ourselves that that is the way the world works, then we try to convince ourselves that that must be the way Jesus works as well… and one more Imaginary Jesus comes into being… just like all of the other Imaginary Jesuses who are really nothing more than projections of ourselves and our own biases.

And so, when Imaginary Dualism Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and wealth,” our ears perk up, and our binary code kicks in, and we say to ourselves, “What Jesus means is, ‘There is God standing over at one wall, and there is wealth standing over at the opposite wall, and we have to go stand at one wall or the other.’”

But the Real Jesus never would have said that. I’m not questioning the words of Jesus in the Bible. I am simply questioning our interpretation of those words 2000 years later. You see, the Real Jesus, the 1st century Jesus who was born in a stable, and was raised as a Jew, and roamed around the eastern Mediterranean on foot, and gathered disciples, and upset the local authorities, and was crucified on what we call Good Friday, and who rose on what we call Easter Sunday… that Jesus never would have understood God and wealth as standing at separate walls. That Jesus (if I may continue with that metaphor of walls for just a minute longer) would only have understood that there was one wall… and God was the wall… and all of creation stood with God at the same wall.

Why then, would the Real Jesus say what he did in this morning’s gospel? I think he did so as a word of warning… but as a very different warning than most of us hear. It wasn’t a warning about having to choose between God and money. It was a warning that if you choose to see your money as separate from God, then you will have to make a choice… and you cannot serve two masters. If you choose to separate God from the world, you will hate one and love the other. If you choose to create that false dichotomy, that false dichotomy will become your undoing.

Much as it does in the weeks leading up to Christmas, there is talk beginning to swirl around St. Mark’s. In December, the question was, “So what do you want for Christmas this year?” This time of year however, with Ash Wednesday only 10 days away, the question has shifted to, “So what are you going to give up for Lent this year?” The temptation of the season of Lent, of course, is to fall for the Imaginary Dualism Jesus who tries to tell us that somehow the attachments of the world are at odds with the attachment of God, and so to truly draw closer to God we have to distance ourselves from our worldly cares. Do you see the inherent dualism in that logic… that somehow the world is over here, and God is over here… and to move “toward” God I have to move “away” from the world?

I don’t buy it. I mean, I simply don’t believe that is true. Probably the most beloved and well known passage in all the scriptures is John 3:16, where we hear those familiar words: “For God so loved the world.” If that is true – and I believe that it is – then God is fully present in the world… in every aspect of our common life together, in every dimension of the human experience, in all of our interactions with one another and with every part of God’s creation. To believe that we somehow need to distance ourselves from that good and holy world which God has created, and blessed, and loved, and fully become a part of… to do that, I believe, is to do a disservice to the gospel.

So… if you are one who absolutely HAS TO give something up for Lent each year, this year I would suggest that you give up “giving stuff up.” And in its place, I would also suggest that you look deep into the very things that you might some years set aside, and search for God’s presence just waiting to be uncovered there.

If some years you give up going out for dinner, this year I would suggest going out once a week – and choosing an ethnic cuisine you’ve never tasted before just to experience some of the ways in which God blesses us through wonderful foods and spices and flavors you might never have encountered previously.

If some years you give up watching television or going to the movies, this year I would suggest just the opposite. Watch more. And then ask yourself at the end of the movie or TV show, “How did I see the hand of God at work in that production? What is God trying to communicate to me or to the world through the themes or storylines I just encountered?”

If some years you give up chocolate, this year I say eat chocolate from different parts of the world, and learn about chocolate production in those places, and come to understand whether those folks are being treated fairly and equitably and justly.

If some years you give up using the internet so much, this year I’d suggest logging on daily, and using the internet to re-connect with family and long-time friends by writing a different person an email every day just to say that you are thinking of them and holding them close in your heart and in your prayers.

There are plenty of Imaginary Jesuses out there… all of whom want a little piece of the action, a little piece of the pie, a little piece of our heart. I suggest that you go on a quest for the real one, living in our midst, and inviting us to see God’s hand… in everything. Amen.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dolores Kisting

Dolores Kisting, beloved member of Saint Mark’s, passed away peacefully Feb. 11, 2011. Due to a physical disability Dolores was uncomfortable sitting for long, so for many years she could be seen standing on the south side of the sanctuary through our worship services. Faithfully, she gave thanks to her loving Lord. She was proud to have graduated from one of our early Education For Ministry (EFM) programs and proved a source of many lively theological discussions. Dolores was active in the Women’s Book Group and a faithful member of ‘Blessed Women,” Saint Mark’s chapter of the Daughters of the King women’s service order. She loved to fish and displayed genuine disappointment when her request to join our men’s annual fishing trip was denied. She is dearly loved and remembered for her many acts of kindness in sending loving mementos and cards of encouragement.

Born Mary Dolores Kising, on Jan 25th 1930 in Rockford Il, she was the daughter of Bernard and Hilma Kisting. After graduating from Muldoon High School in 1948 she attended Mundeline College in Chicago. Dolores moved to Altadena in 1960, finding work at the Altadena Fire Department. She was a world traveler and on an exotic trip to Fege, officials, learning she worked for the fire department, commandeered her to ride on their 1920 fire engine during a parade event -- which she did with great enthusiasm and exuberant glee.

Employment at Fuller Theological Seminary followed her service at the fire department and then a long career at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), from whence she retired after many years of faithful service.

Dolores is survived by her sisters Marge Hevrin, Bernadine Sisti, Dorothy (Stanley) Wentland, her brother Raymond (June) Kisting, sister-in-law Roseanne (Keith) Miller, numerous niece and nephews, friends, and her loving Saint Mark’s Family of Faith.

Though sorely missed, we rejoice with Dolores as she enters into eternal life. We will celebrate Dolores' life at a memorial service at Saint Mark's on Thursday, February 24, at 11:00 a.m.

Be the Grown-Up

Sermon by the Very Rev. Sylvia Sweeney, Dean of Bloy House
Theological Education Sunday, 2/13/11
Matthew 5:21-37

There is a wonderful character in children’s literature who some of you may know. Her name is Amelia Bedelia, and she has for generations delighted young and old with her antics. By occupation Amelia Bedelia is a live-in domestic who dresses in the traditional black and white garb of a domestic down to the little white hat. What makes Amelia so wonderfully entertaining to small children is her naivete. She is a very young child in an adult body, and she approaches the English language with the same kind of naivete one might expect from a two or three year old. So if one asks Amelia to draw the drapes, she will take out a pencil and paper and draw a perfectly lovely set of drapes. If one asks Amelia to dress the chicken, she will find the request somewhat odd, but in the end she will sew up a small outfit just the right size for a four pound bird and put the chicken in the pan fully attired. If one asks Amelia to dust the furniture she will ponder this for a while and then when she finds dusting powder in the boudoir of this rather old fashioned home, she will carefully cover all the furniture with a lovely fine coating of dusting powder.

I believe what enchants children about Amelia Bedelia is that by the time they have reached kindergarten their understanding of language is hugely more sophisticated than hers. They know that you don’t really dress a chicken when someone says dress a chicken. They know that language is frequently not supposed to be taken literally…that understanding communication is way more complicated than just knowing what a handful of nouns and verbs mean. I think young children are delighted with themselves when they meet Amelia Bedelia, because they are so much wiser even at the ripe old age of four or five or six, than she.

But it is amazing how often in our lives as adults we forget what we have learned as small children. Learning the lesson about how language works is work that continues on in our lives even though we may at times be tempted to forget it. I remember my own experience of going to seminary, reading Paul Tillich for the very first time and saying to a friend that despite the fact that I could tell you the meaning of every word in the sentence I had just read, I still had no idea whatsoever about what the sentence meant! Indeed as the dean of a seminary, I believe that much of theological education is about learning how to hear and think about God …as adults not toddlers. It is important work, and it is work that cannot be left to only those preparing to be priests and deacons if the church is to survive. Just as children must learn to decipher the language of their birth to participate fully in their world, we too must learn to decipher the language of faith to participate fully in our own spiritual world. That is part of why we have worked so hard at Bloy House to encourage lay participation in theological education in this diocese.

What I believe Jesus is trying to do in today’s Gospel is teach his people not to come at scripture as small children, but as thinking responsible adults. He pushes language to the limits to try to help get people past the absurdity of thinking literally so that they can learn to hear with a different kind of ear; the same kind of ear that allows a five year old to close the curtains when you ask them to draw the drapes rather than to take out a crayon and paper. Jesus wants us to hear what God’s commandments are about, not just to spit them out of our mouths like randomly received fortune cookie fortunes. He wants us to learn how to think like a grown up about very grown up problems in the world.

Very early in parish ministry Bob and I learned that, for all of us, thinking like a grown up about spiritual matters does not come naturally or easily. As we would in our first years of functioning as leaders of a faith community face the kind of conflicts, concerns, and conundrums that had everything to do with being in community together, we would often find that everyone in the story, us included, made face value, immature, knee jerk responses to complex, difficult, paradoxical situations. Our family mantra after a little while came to be, “Remember you are the big person in the story.” We reminded one another to think and speak and act like a grown up. And that is precisely what we needed to do to grow in our vocations. It is also precisely what our parishioners had to do to grow in their vocations as well. It is precisely what our confirmation kids had to do to decide if they were ready to make a mature affirmation of faith. It is also exactly what made it possible for wise, disciplined, grown up protestors in Tahrir Square to respond as they did. And how the world was changed as a result!

In the Amelia Bedelia stories what always saves Amelia’s job is that just when her employers are at their wits end with her, she hands them the most beautiful luscious lemon meringue pie fresh out of the oven and all it made right with the world. They then learn to adjust their language to speak to her in a way that she can take literally. And I fear that for much of the history of organized religion that has been our fall-back position. Rather than grapple with the difficulties and complexities of the life of faith, we have resigned ourselves to just speaking literally. To pretending that there are easy, clear cut, black and white answers to all the complex ethical and moral questions we face in our lives.

It is against just such a diluted superficial infantilized approach to religion that Jesus reacts in today’s lesson. Instead Jesus suggests to us that we must think very deeply about what happens to everyone in the story when divorce happens. We must think about not just what we are allowed to do by a strict adherence to the law, but we must think beyond that to how the lives of all those involved, the fabric of society, the nature of trust, the definition of marriage and family are potentially deconstructed and reconstructed by the decision to divorce.

Jesus want us to think about what it means to live in a culture of animosity, incivility, disrespect, and violence if we want to truly understand the larger message of the prohibition against murder. He wants us to remember that our religion counts for nothing if it does not touch the way we relate to one another, the way we care for one another, and the way we honor one another as joint participants in the imago dei, the very image of God.

Jesus stood over and over again over against the worst within religious culture. So much of what religion does to people at its worst is infantilize them…treat them as if they are incapable of moral action and ethical lives. Much of what religion does is shape its direction as prohibition as if we were all small children constantly preparing to place our hand on the hot stove. Instead Jesus cajoles his audiences into “being the big people in the story”. Big people are people who attend to their moral compass. Big people are people who listen to the story of faith with an ear to how it affects their own lives and the lives of others. Big people are people willing to act and willing to be held accountable for their actions. Big people are people who know that the comes when you have to choose for yourself what your life will say and mean, and who recognize that at the end we will stand as accountable adults before the great judgment seat of life to answer for those choices.

So to each of us, Jesus says, don’t be like Amelia Bedelia, a child in a grown up’s body. Be the grown up, the big person, in the story. In your work life when people are being petty and immature, be the grown up in the story. In your home life when people are acting irrationally out of fear or anger, be the grown up in the story. In your civic life when forces work to create the illusion that everything we face is simply about black and white decisions, do not be duped, be the grown up in the story. In all that you say and all that you do strive to the back breaking hard work of the mature life of faith; listening respectfully, thinking rationally, owning one’s own emotions, intervening constructively, and engaging humbly on the life stages which Christ has given you.

In just a few weeks the high school age youth of St. Mark’s will have the opportunity to decide if they are ready to make a mature affirmation of faith before the bishop…if they know themselves to be ready to do so in an act full of meaning and integrity. I would hope that in your hearts, in your own interior castles, those of you who have lived your lives of faith up into your adult years would find yourselves in your mind’s eye standing with them, repeating those vows of our baptismal covenant and choosing once again for your own lives to be the clear thinking, learned, theologically formed and informed, thoughtful big people of God. For if we cannot show our young people the way forward in life, who can?

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Saint Mark's Cookbook

The Saint Mark's School 50th Anniversary Cookbook has arrived! The book is illustrated with wonderful Marla Frazee drawings (a former school parent and award-winning illustrator), and contains useful and tasty recipes from lots of your Saint Mark's friends. You'll be delighted when you see how great it looks; thank you so much to those who contributed recipes.

The cookbooks will be available for sale on Sunday and in the church office. They are $20 each; however, until February 25th, we'll have an introductory rate of $20 for the first one and $15 for each additional book. It's only February, but these would make great Christmas presents for next year! The proceeds from cookbooks bought through the parish will help support our fabulous Sunday morning coffee hours.

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