Saint John's Episcopal Church
Sunday, December 08, 2013
From the Rector
The welcome messages from the Rector that you often find are not easy to write; I find that they run along the line of, “Saint Swithin’s by the Swamp has the most delightful, warm and welcoming people ever to grace a set of pews and there is always room for a few more.”
I will not make that claim for the folk of Saint John’s, though I love them dearly. We like all people are a mixed bag of intentions, failure & success. What I can say about this community is that we are committed to knowing God with the consequences of what such an encounter bring.
I can welcome you to a place where the work of souls is taken seriously. We have many programs from sports to choirs to outreach and others, but all our activities must promote our meeting God and preparing our souls to present to him one day. God has no grandchildren and each of us must as, Saint Paul wrote, “Work out faith with fear and trembling.”
So if you are searching for God for the first time or perhaps looking for a place to live out the shape of your obedience in a community of faith, you well may have found a home.
Interview with Jeff LeFever
In June 2012, Father John had a lengthy conversation on aesthetics, worship, and the role of the church in our world today with Jeff LeFever of the Foundation for the Biblical Arts . At the time Father John was beginning to consider the paradox of his work as a priest and his job as Rector of Saint John's. Recently, consideration and contemplation of this tension has resurfaced in his sermons as he has introduced it to the parish in the context of stewardship. Our work is shared between all of us in the congregation, he said in mid October, though our jobs may be very different. The role of the church is changing in the modern world, but the work of the church--soul work--remains as constant, and as challenging, as ever. Read the transcript of the interview here.
In the Briar Patch
Leaving work a guy calls his wife, “I’m running by the cleaners to drop off that jacket George spilled the marshmallow meatball sauce on.” In turn she will go by the grocer to pick up a few things after dropping off their son at practice. This is rhythm of life, run by, go by and drop off.
What troubles me is that Church is too often in the same category. We “run by” Church as if we are picking up a prescription. Thank God we have not yet come to drive-by communion. No, don’t even go there. See you Sunday, and yes, Virginia, there is a parking lot.
Those of us who work in the church spend a lot of time thinking up things for people to do and that is how it should be; however, the last thing we need to do is add to the distress of busyness.
I sometimes feel, like the supposedly unfortunate Br'er Rabbit, that I have landed in the briar patch. For thirty years I have waded through the brambles carefully loosing myself from briar after briar, making progress but slowly, all the while wondering why I do this. Yet from time to time, I come across berries. Where I come from, the briar patch was a blackberry thicket, as we called it. The fruit is delicious but can only be found in amongst the stickers.
My deepest commitment as a priest is that people prosper as their souls prosper. My job is be rector of this parish, but my work is the cure of souls. If that is of interest to you please contact me (or one of the other clergy) and we will get to it. I am determined to make this place, so much as I have influence, a matrix – an open space – where souls encounter the Living God in word and sacrament.
The Feast of the Epiphany
Epiphany in Greek means revealing or manifestation. The Wise Men arrive to visit the Christ Child, the first gentiles to meet the savior. We really do not know how many Magi arrived, but as there were three gifts, gold, frankincense and Myrrh, tradition sets the number at three. Really the Church has used this story as a metaphor to set out several truths. The message of the angels really is to all human beings on this planet.
The word Epiphany has come to mean, thank you James Joyce, a moment of insight, a turning point, a break-through. I would say that the birth of Jesus has that sense, a moment of insight not only as to sin, but also as to hope, a turning point and a breakthrough. Epiphany is the consequence of the joining of heaven to earth and earth to heaven in the Incarnation.
Now this insight, this manifestation, is to be shared for the light as come. There is an old custom that we did way back 25 years ago at Christ Church, Albertville. Each person at the Epiphany Eucharist was given a candle that they lit from the Christ candle of the former Advent wreath. Their task was to take this light to someone in town that they cared for other than their family. Carefully people protected the light as they entered their cars and drove somewhere in the little city. Such is the result of the words of dismissal, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
The short form of the Epiphany sums matters up, “May Christ the Son of God be manifest in you that your lives may be a light to the world and the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you now and forever more. Amen.”
The Rev. John W. Sewell
My Hope For the Minster Saint John's
A Minster is an idea from late antiquity. It was a base community usually of monks who came to an area and built a church complex. There they began the rhythm of worship, formation and service.
Because they lived in community, they had stamina, patience and the resources needed to evangelize and live as servants in the surrounding countryside, which was a key strategy of the Minster concept. Outpost churches eventually sprang up, which helped to extend their reach (read more)...
Books and Thoughts on Books
The Internet is a wondrous tool. Out-of-print books once unavailable can now be located in small book stores literally continents away (I once found a rare volume of English Church history in Australia). Some of the books I will recommend will not be in print, but by using books searches such as Alibis or the better-known Amazon they can be located often at good prices.
The Holy Longing: The Search for A Christian Spirituality, by Ronald Rolheiser (Doubleday 1999)
A truly wonderful book and a good place to start for a spiritual overhaul, Rolheiser begins at the beginning with a definition of Spirituality and then what is Christian Spirituality.
[I digress—Joseph Campbell once said that spirituality/religion, he believed, was hard-wired into the human species. Each religion is like software. They work if you stay in that system but Apple does not work with Microsoft Office. He went on to say that he studied the phenomenon of religion, but that he would never have the kind of religious experience that a saint would have by living fully in their “software.” (My paraphrase). I encounter a lot of people who want to take a bit of this and a morsel of that and call that a sort of personal spirituality, which usually demands nothing of the person confirming all their previously held values and beliefs.]
He then speaks to what is essential and non-negotiable for a Christian spirituality, and the consequences of such a journey. It’s a good place to begin and a good book to use to take inventory during the journey.
The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, by David Whyte (Currency Doubleday 1994)
This book, worth having almost just for the title, is written by an English poet as a commentary on soul work and the challenges of career in corporate America. I have enjoyed this book and return to it from time to time. I particularly enjoyed the second chapter, Beowulf: Power and Vulnerability in the Workplace. Here Whyte sees Beowulf as a consultant to the King who has a problem with his company (Grendel). The hero, Beowulf, solves the presenting problem by dispatching the monster only to have greater problems erupt in the person of Grendel’s mother. As Whyte puts it, “The message in this portion of the poem is unsparing. It is not the thing you fear that you must deal with. It is the mother of the thing you fear. The very thing that has given birth to the nightmare.” [Pg. 38] It is fun, scary and profound, particularly if you have been at your career for five years or more.
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables, of Jesus, by Robert Farrar Capon (Wm Erdmans, combined edition 2002)
Robert Capon doesn’t write bad books! He has taught me the radical nature of grace. I am eternally indebted to him. It all began when I read what were then three books on the parables back in the early 1990’s. He is really very funny and demands that you listen to what he is saying. What he is saying is not trivial or “dumbed” down, for he can take the complex and carefully display the beauty without smearing it into an incomprehensible blob. You may have heard these parables explained all your life (as I had), but I predict that you will hear from Father Capon insights you have never heard before.
Some other titles of Caponia:
The Mystery of Christ and Why We Don’t Get It
A wonderful conversation between the author and a group of listeners about the nature of Christ and our relationship with him.
The Romance of the Word: One Man's Love Affair With Theology. Three Books: An Offering of Uncles/The Third Peacock/Hunting the Divine Fox
Here is a second reprint of three earlier works on theology. If only all theology was just so well written. Dip in here from time to time. It will feed and amaze you.
Health, Money and Love: And Why We Don't Enjoy Them
Capon here gives a treatise on the deep drivers of life and the soul and why we are so held hostage by our “stuff”. Well done. Anyone who wants to order their life rightly would find this book a weighty advocate.
The Supper of the Lamb...a Culinary Reflection
How fun to have a theological cookbook. Capon once wrote food columns for New York newspapers. It’s a great read.
The Faith of a Physicist, by John Polkinghorne (1994 Princeton University Press)
This tome was the published Gifford Lectures for 1993-1994. Dr. Polkinghorne, the some time Chair of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University, is also Father Polkinghorne, a priest of the Church of England.
This book subtitled “Reflections of a Bottom-Up Thinker” is the theological ruminations and insights of a scientist on the Nicene Creed, the statement of belief that most Christians would hold in common. This is a brilliant and erudite exercise. This is not for the faint of heart or the intellectually lazy. It challenged me for the scientific concepts and it challenged a friend of mine for the theology. The author was good enough to give the reader a glossary to aid in the journey.
There are nuggets that make the exercise of the mind worth it. “Finally, the resurrection of Jesus is the vindication of the hopes of humanity. We shall all die with our lives to a greater or lesser extent incomplete, unfulfilled, unhealed. Yet there is a profound and wide spread human intuition that in the end all will be well.” Yes!
Give it a try. It will be, I suspect perhaps a classic.
Dr./Fr. Polkinghorne has written many books, all of which are worth exploring for different reasons. His work on the Trinity/Quantum Mechanics is fascinating. His writing on the end of time and physics is mind expanding. One of his early works, Reason and Reality, contains in chapter five (The Use of Scripture) for me the most nuanced and useful exposition on scripture I have yet read.