August 15, 2016

There were six of us piled into our rental car.  We had just hiked on some of the most arid land I had ever seen.  To make matters worse, we had one of those friendly guides who kept saying, “oh, it’s just a little bit farther” and would point to a hill in the distance!  When we had survived the hike and were finally back to the car, all we wanted was water and something for lunch!

 

Following the directions from our enthusiastic guide, we headed off to a get food and a drink,  and we made a wrong turn!  But, as I look back on that mistake, I can hear the end of the Robert Frost poem that says “that has made all the difference”.  For we came up over a dune, and as far as we could see, there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cairns stretching across a wide beach and down to the shore of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

A cairn/kern/n is a pile of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark.  I had never known what the stone towers were until a friend talked of building one as part of a retreat.  She said that for her it marked a time of renewal of her faith.  

 

The six of us found individual rocks on the beach and a piece of beach glass.   We built a cairn  together on that day when we got lost.  At the time, for me it represented our friendship and love for each other.  As I have thought back on that day, the cairn also represented something else for me.  It had been a hard few months for many in our family circle.  I needed something to build, to see, to touch..  I needed a reminder that it is God who is faithful.  I put some stones from that beach in my pocket.  With some of my favorite stones from other beaches, I built a little cairn on a shelf in my kitchen.  Every time I see that little pile of rough stones, I am reminded of that day, of those dear friends and of our God who does not fail.

 

Judy Harnish

July 25, 2016

Community

As I ponder the ways in which Faith Matters, my mind is drawn to another pair of words: Faith Communities.  These days, Carol and I live in two different worlds: we spend about half of our year in Louisville, Kentucky, the other half in Michigan.  When people in each place ask us about what we like about the other, our answer always centers around the faith communities which welcome, encourage and sustain us in each place.

 

I am convinced that faith is like that.  Lived alone, it tends to shrivel up and dry out.  It is the several  communities of which we are a part – our physical neighbors, those we see on a regular basis, often at church, as well as those we see more rarely and interact with mostly electronically – with whom we share our worries and concerns, who enrich our lives not only with joy of spending time together but also with their reminders of the faith-based roots that sustain our energies and our hopes.

 

This thinking leads me to deep gratitude for those who are engaged in those faith communities along with us, for the institutions that provide the framework in which they operate, and for the work of the Holy Spirit, which  provides the bedrock, the lubrication, the energy and encouragement driving and sustaining those faith-based relationships.

 

I well know that it requires a commitment of time, energy, and yes, also of financial resources, to sustain the institutions and relationships that keep those communities of faith strong.  In these early days of this year’s stewardship drive at St. Andrews, I am glad to add my words of support in reminding people of how blessed we are to be part of a church that is itself a community of faith and that provides the context in which many of these relationships are established and sustained. I am thankful for each of the friends with whom I am able to share those relationships, for the church that provides the context in which many of them grow, and most of all, for the gift of the  Holy Spirit, an active participant in each of those communities.  What a blessing these communities of faith are for each of us.  May we do all we can to nurture them and keep them strong.

 

Don Mead, Author

July 11, 2016

bible faith

“Carefully Taught”

The year was 1949.  In post-World War II America, new hope was rising and new vigor was inspiring the rebuilding of the world following the devastating death and destruction of the war.  My Dad had returned from the Pacific theater and started his family with twins–and since I am the second born, I will be forever grateful!  I was only two years old and knew nothing of the underbelly of American society at that time, the ugly remnants of racism, the injustice of Jim Crow in the south, the plight of African Americans who had risked their lives for their country in the war but still couldn’t sit at lunch counter or use the toilet in many parts of the country. (For a chilling account of the treatment of black Americans in Florida all the way up into the 70’s, read “The Devil In the Grove” by Gilbert King.  The distrust of the police by African Americans has deep roots.)

Rogers and Hammerstein understood. So they used their incredible talent to set a story in the context of a celebration of those who had served in the war; a story which would intentionally confront the racial divisions of the nation long before the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s or the Black Lives Matter movement today.  Of course, they called it “South Pacific” and it remains one of the most beloved American musicals of all time. Even 66 years later, it still challenges us with the lingering prejudices which bedevils our society today. In what must be one of the shortest songs of the American musical stage, they satirically identify the problem:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, You’ve got to be taught from year to year,

It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear,  You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid, of people whose eyes are oddly made, 

And people whose skin is a different shade, You’ve got to be carefully taught. 

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, before you are six or seven or eight, 

To hate all the people your relatives hate, You’ve got to be carefully taught!

In some ways, Benzie County is not unlike the small town where I grew up in the post-war ‘50’s. With relatively little ethnic diversity, it would be easy to pretend that the pain of Dallas doesn’t reach us in our pleasant corner of the world. But the deeper issue is about the attitudes we carry and the lessons we pass on to our children. Even in our corner of the world, the church is called to give witness to God’s all-inclusive grace and the sacred worth of every person. That’s the lesson which needs to be “carefully taught” today.

Jack Harnish

 

June 27, 2016

 

We have in the midst of us, Christ’s healing power.  The source of this God-given   power comes to us through people, through prayer, and through communion with each other.  This healing power might seem foreign to us, so we don’t quite trust it.  For sure, we don’t want to be fooled by a “snake oil” salesman.  It seems to us like a fantasy or wishful thinking.  Is it really that easy?  Just say it and you’re healed.  Really? Yes, really!

 

We have something in psychology called abreaction, also known as the “talking cure.”  Successful outcomes in therapy, use abreaction liberally.  Unfortunately for us, we have to navigate living in society where we have to put on a “fake” face so we can hide our pain and our weaknesses.  We definitely don’t want other respectable people to see our dark side.  We keep that locked up and tucked away, so it never sees the light of day.  By doing this, we develop strongholds, where that dark side festers and grows.   Opening ourselves to the “talking cure” is a very important step in the healing process.  More recently, the term morphogenesis has been used to describe our fields of consciousness.  It is how we relate to the emotional content around us-a kind of resonance.  If we carry a resonance for peace, most likely we will be drawn to peaceful experiences, but if we have a high resonance for fear, we will be drawn to fearful experiences.  By becoming more conscious, we become clear enough to be less influenced by negative strongholds and resonate instead with more positive fields.

 

Paul refers to these spiritual “fortresses” or strongholds in 2 Corinthians.   Psychotherapy and Paul are in agreement here because in order to manage this dark side, it must be made conscious and brought out in the open. We need to talk it through-and even wrestle with it at times.  Transparency or what I call becoming “childlike” is how we heal. It is through this act of acknowledging our pain and weaknesses, that we destroy those strongholds.  In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul says,  “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  These pretensions have to do with anything proud, man-centered, and self- absorbed.

 

Abigail Van Buren from “Dear Abby” newspaper fame,  graced us with good practical advice over the years.  One quotable quote  made an impression on me, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”       What we know about the healing of our emotional wounds is that we need to be open and transparent with those we love.   Ideally, if we can get past the facades, a Christian church is just the place for us to heal.

 

Hanging in the Grip of His Grace, I am

 

Kathryn Den Houter

June 20, 2016

In the 18th century, the Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote about, “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us! It wad frae mony a blunder free us.”  Applying Burns’ insight, it is sometimes interesting to see ourselves (Christians) as others (atheists) see us.  The Freedom From Religion Foundation gives an annual award – the “Emperor has No Clothes Award” – celebrating “plain speaking” on the shortcomings of religion by public figures.  In 2009, Ron Reagan (the President’s son) gave a speech in accepting this award.  Talking about his early years Reagan stated,

 

“I did grow up in a religious household, it’s true, but we weren’t very religious. We were Presbyterian, part of the great 19th century religious revival, here in the United States. I didn’t know any of that at the time. I just knew my parents went to a Presbyterian church. … We went to the Bel Air Presbyterian Church, actually. … There were homilies, there were benedictions, there were genuflections, there were all sorts of things that we had to do, a little musical interlude and then the hymns would come. I was thinking: This is a hell of an imposition on a Sunday morning. For God’s sake, you know, two hours we’ve got to do this? This is crazy!”

 

For an inquisitive youth, this lead to a dialogue between Reagan and his father.

 

So I asked my father, “Why do we have to go to church in the first place? I thought God was everywhere.” And he said, “Well” — he’d get very kind of avuncular with you — “Well, you know, God says, wherever two or more shall gather, there shall I be.”

 

I thought, “OK, so if you’re alone, and in a real jam, what — God can’t hear you anymore? What does that mean?” This seemed to be a god of pretty picayune rules, frankly. There’ve got to be more than two of you, and you’ve got to be in this building over here? Come on, he was supposed to be everywhere, right? That’s not the way you’d expect a grand, omniscient deity to behave.

 

Let me take a shot at answering Ron Reagan’s question to his father.  First it’s good to have some background from the Gospel according to John.  John writes:

 

The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory. … Jesus declard, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. … Did I not tell you that if you believed in me you would see the Glory of God?”

 

There was an excitement in Christ, and a thrill at being a part of his ministry.  This was momentarily interrupted by the sorrow of his crucifixion and death, but punctuated with the world’s greatest exclamation point in his resurrection.  After seeing Christ on Easter morning, John tells us that:

 

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news:  I have seen the Lord!  And she told them that he had sad these things to her.

 

The thing about good news is that it is meant to be shared.  When we are filled with a joy, that joy is not complete until it is shared with another.  Think for a moment on an event in your life that brought you elation.  What did you do after the event?  Most likely you found your friends and loved ones and told them your great news.  Worship on Sunday mornings is (or should be) like that.

 

“No,” I might respond to young Ron, “you don’t have to go to church on Sunday mornings.  And of course God hears you at all times – even when you’re alone and scared.  But if you were the Beatles would you want to only perform in a rehearsal hall, or would you want to share your musical gift with others?  If you were Sandy Koufax, would you want to pitch in your back yard, or as part of a major league team?  If you were Ernest Hemingway, would you want your manuscripts to pile up unopened in your study, or would you want others to read them?”

Worship can (or should) be like that.  Don’t worry if you don’t have something obvious to share:  God has already provided that.  The important part is in sharing and being with other believers.

 

How does our own worship measure up to this standard?  Would our excitement be obvious to an observer?  Ron Reagan has let us know that he was watching, and he was taking notes.  Let’s take care that when others see us they see the expression of joy that Christ has planted in our lives, rather than a “hell of an imposition.”  In that way we can be certain that our Faith will Matter.

June 13, 2016

live in prayerDayton Edmunds, a Native-American theologian, when asked about prayer, told the story of how he was taught by the elders of his people to join with the community at the shore of the lake in the morning. In prayer to the Great Spirit and while facing the deep, they would walk into the water and dip themselves in the water three times, but “We did not say ‘Amen’.” Then they would turn around, walk out onto dry land, and go about their daily tasks. Finally, at the end of the day when night fell and Edmunds was about to go to sleep, he says, “Then I would say, ‘Amen’. Thus the whole day, all that I was and all that I did, was my prayer.”

What a wonderful way to be at prayer each day, from the moment one wakes to the moment one goes to sleep! What a powerful way for our congregation to be at prayer this summer as we more than double in size.

As we build old and new relationships, programs and hopes, let us remind ourselves, in the words of a favorite hymn, “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord,” and that it is Christ who is the cornerstone of all we are and do.

 

Blessings in Christ,

Rev. Anne

 

MAY 24, 2016

 

Do This In Remembrance…

Remember.  The whole of the Biblical narrative rides on the call to remember.  The journey of the People of Israel in the Old Testament is marked by the call to remember the Lord their God, to remember the Exodus and the story of deliverance, to remember what God has done in the past.  When the people cross into the land of promise Joshua tells them to gather up stones and pile them up on the other side of the river as a reminder of their journey.  And of course, in the Gospels Jesus’ simple command at the table gathers us around broken bread and shared cup with the words “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Next week we will mark a national day of remembrance.  Amid hot dogs and sailboats, beach side picnics and backyard bar-b-ques, hopefully we will all pause to remember.  I always remember my Uncle Jim, a twenty-three year old WWII pilot who made his last flight over Holland and never returned.  I remember gathering at the small town cemetery where he was laid to rest, standing with his brothers who made it home and my Grandfather who carried the memory deeper than anyone else.  My cousins and I were Cub Scouts and Brownies, marching in a small town parade, remembering an Uncle we never knew, just because it was important to remember.

But remembering has a reason.

The sacrament does not just look back, it looks forward.  As the liturgy says, we do this “…so that we might be for the world the Body of Christ.” We remember the gift so that we might become the gift for the sake of the world.  And on this Memorial Day we do not just look back, we look ahead praying that the memory of the price which has been paid through war would lead us to a day of peace.  Whenever I remember my Uncle Jim, I recommit myself to the task of peace-making so that another generation will never have to make the same sacrifice.  Regrettably, it seems we have a hard time learning that lesson and turning that hope a reality. So this Memorial Day, even as we pause to remember, the world is still at war and another generation of young men and women will take their place to small town cemeteries in America, in Syria, in Iraq, in Afghanistan.  So we remember and we recommit ourselves to the cause of peace for the sake of those who die and in the name of the One who calls us to remember.

Jack Harnish

 

May 9, 2016

bible faith

I do believe most of us are not driving the car we had ten to fifteen years ago.  At some point we got a better one or maybe even a new one. For some reason it is easier to upgrade into a better car than it is for us to grow in our faith.  In fact, most Christians have not made any major changes in their faith since confirmation.  It seems as though once we have become a member of a church, we no longer have to come into a new understanding of our faith.

 

Tradition has us celebrating Ascension Day as forty days after Easter. Ascension Day is the time when Christians celebrate Christ’s ascension into heaven.  This would mean that heaven is somewhere up in the sky.  But in the gospel of Matthew chapter 13, Jesus speaks about the kingdom in heaven in several parables. The good news is about living out the kingdom of heaven here on earth. Heaven is not just that place up there in the sky.

 

According to tradition, fifty days after Easter we celebrate Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles in Jerusalem.   This particular time line is found in the first and second chapters of Acts.

 

But this time line does not agree with the Gospel of John which places the cross or death of Christ, his resurrection, ascension and Pentecost within three days of each other, (John 20:1-31).  The point being is that the Christ is right here with us enabling us to proclaim the kingdom of heaven, helping others see what the kingdom looks like, and to bring healing and peace to one another.

 

After Jesus asked Peter three times “Do you love me,” in the 21st chapter of John, Jesus said to Peter, “Come, and follow me,”  meaning that the ministry of Jesus is now the ministry we all as Christians are being called to do.  Being a Christian is more than just becoming a member of a church. All Christians are being called into new understanding of our ministry in Christ Jesus.

 

Rev. Russ Brandt, Author

May 2, 2016

Faith Newspaper
On Sunday mornings this spring, David Hebert has been leading the Adult Ed class through a study of the Gospel of Luke. On a recent Sunday, we worked through the passage in Luke 7 where Jesus heals a Roman Centurion’s servant. Luke writes,
But say the word, and my servant shall be healed … When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
Pistis is the Greek word which is translated as “faith” in this passage. The root of the word comes from Greek mythology. Pistis was the personification of good faith, trust and reliability. She is mentioned together with such other personifications as Elpis (Hope), Sophrosyne (Prudence), and the Charites, who were all associated with honesty and harmony among people. Greeks also developed a linkage between pistis and persuasion developed through the discussion of faith which was further morphed by an understanding of pistis as a rhetorical technique. In “Rhetoric” Aristotle argued that speech can produce persuasion in three ways: (i) through the character of the speaker; (ii) through the emotional state of the listener; or (iii) through the argument (logos) itself.
“Faith” is a two-sided concept in the 21’st century.  At its worst, it can denote a naïve reliance on unreliable sources, or intellectual sloth. “Trust me,” the used car dealer urges, “this car was only driven on Sundays by a little old lady from Pasadena on her way to and from church.” “Show me the Car Fax” we want to ask the dealer. Or when dealing with truculent Russians, we might be inclined to “Trust, but verify.” Persuasive speech in Aristotle’s mode (i) or (ii) is speech against which we are guarded.
It is important that “faith” in the Christian usage transforms the Greek root of the word to give greater emphasis to Aristotle’s element (iii). The Gospel of John begins,
In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word (logos) was with God and the Word (logos) was God.
In this rhetorical model, Christ – the Word – becomes the basis for faith as the argument itself. It is in this sense that we have a confident faith in Christ. It comes not through the persuasion of a pastor (or a blog writer!), nor from an emotional state, but from Christ’s own revelation.
William Barclay writes of the Roman Centurion:
He was a man of faith. His faith is based on the soundest argument. He argued from the here and now to the there and then. He argued from his own experience to God. If his authority produced the results it did, how much more must that of Jesus? He came with that perfect confidence which looks up and says, “Lord, I know you can do this.” If only we had a faith like that, for us too the miracle would happen and life become new.
What can this faith – based on logos, based on Christ – do?  Eugene Peterson translates Matthew 17:20 in this way:
“The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, “Move!” and it would move.  There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.”
John McMillan

April 25, 2016

come thou fount
How often in a worship service do we pay attention to the words of the hymns we sing?
 How often do we think about the planning of the worship service? The choice of the hymns to ‘fit’ the lectionary or church season?
Did you notice how all of the hymns on April 17
th fit the season?
A hymn can ‘set me off’ and the tears come and the ‘lump in my throat’. The memories of singing hymns around the piano every Sunday night at home, or a certain hymn reminding me of a specific person, time or place, or ‘piercing my heart’.
Our daughter Sarah, is an Episcopalian and through her I am introduced to Lenten and Advent devotions from Episcopal Relief and Development. This devotion written by Esther Cohen, COO of Episcopal Relief & Development, spoke to me and I hope it will speak to you in this Eastertide.
“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
[page 475 in the hymnal]
 
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
 
“All to often during worship, I get to the end of a hymn that I’ve just sung and realize that I haven’t paid any attention to the lyrics. Any of them. I’ve been on autopilot, belting out all-too-familiar words, lustily adding harmonies and the “Amen” and then moving on to the next part of worship.
 
“But the lyrics of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” pierce my heart, every time. I simply can’t be on autopilot when singing what feels like a bold confession: I am not a faithful servant of God.  In fact, not only do I stray from the right paths, but I also feel myself straying. How can I sing, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,” without getting a lump in my throat? Fortunately, at Episcopal Relief & Development, I take comfort and strength from my colleagues whose lives are dedicated to nurturing and feeding and walking in solidarity with our partners around the globe.  
 
“And if I need role models for staying the course, I think of our sisters and brothers throughout the world who overcome great challenges to serve their families, their communities and their God. Who nudges you back on the path? What keeps you from wandering? Who are your spiritual role models? “
Pat Sheafor, Author
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