Proper 28, Year A

This is another gospel that is difficult for me to understand, let alone try to tell it as good news to you. Matthew has a theme, last week with the maidens and their oil lamps, this week servants and talents, and next week the separation of the sheep and the goats. There was an earlier ‘kingdom of God is like’ where a king throws a banquet for his son and those invited do not come. The ending to all these parables is that someone is left out or thrown out in the darkness where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Our challenge is that Matthew’s audience was different than those of us listening to his words today. Matthew writes, primarily, to Jewish Christians who are struggling both with the delay in Jesus’ return, the parousia (pair-oo-see-ah), and the Jewish population surrounding them. They have differentiated themselves from their Jewish family and are not sure how to embrace the Gentile Christians. It seems the end time has come – the temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed, and yet Christ has not returned as they expected he would. As time went on Christians began to focus more on how to act than on preparing for the arrival of the son of man in the near future.
Looking at the gospel in the terms of what it meant to Matthew’s audience may give us ideas as to how this is good news for us today. The ‘talent’ in the gospel story is a huge sum of money. Five talents today would be around 4 million dollars. It is only important to know that it was a great amount of wealth to leave with a servant.
“In the Parable of the Talents, the master showed great trust by leaving so much money in the care of three servants. The FIRST servant honored that trust by using the master’s money wisely. Likewise the SECOND servant. Those two servants respected the master. They knew what he wanted, and did their best to give it to him. The THIRD servant, though, acted quite differently. (Perhaps) he acted differently because he felt differently toward the master.
He didn’t respect the master. He didn’t love the master. He feared the master. He thought of the master as a hard man, even though the master has been generous to all three servants. This third servant didn’t care what the master wanted, so he didn’t try to do what the master wanted. The third servant cared only about himself –– his own life. So instead of using the master’s money wisely, he buried it in the ground. In the culture of that time, he would not be held responsible for the sum if he buried it and it became lost. Because he didn’t want the responsibility, he just hid it away. But it didn’t work. The master left the money to be used. He expected his servants to DO SOMETHING –– to make the world a little better place –– to make someone happy –– to put the money to work. “ (Sermonwriter, Dick Donovan)
God gives us gifts, abilities that we call talent. We are expected to use those gifts. When they are used, they multiply, and spread the goodness of God’s kingdom. When we hide them, ignore them, or choose to not do anything (like burying them away), we do lose them. They remain unused or worse fade away to nothing. God asks that we use the talents that have been bestowed upon us.
I tend to picture God as a merciful, loving, forgiving, creator. To see a judgmental, condemning God is difficult for me. That third servant pictures a God that is indeed unmerciful, unloving and most definitely unforgiving. Fear of the consequences of losing what God has entrusted to him leaves him one option – to hide it all away. Would God care if we try to use our talents and end up losing them? I don’t think so.
It seems that God is most upset and hurt when we turn away and hide – only because God knows that in the end we will be hurt by our own actions.
How you respond to God by either boldly using your gifts/talents or hiding them away will indicate the way you envision God. Are you the beloved child of a loving, merciful, caring, forgiving God? Or are you the servant of a Master “who is harsh, reaping where he does not sow, and gathering where he did not scatter seed”? Paul tells us that we are “children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness…God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Over the next week, reflect on three things: What has God given you? What are you doing with those gifts? What should you be doing? Next week’s gospel will outline how we are to use our God given gifts/talents. It is a special Sunday, Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday in the season after Pentecost. It is the last Sunday in our church year. We can continue this conversation next week…

Proper 27, Year A

How many choices have you made in your life, and how many choices has life made for you? It feels that way sometimes; we don’t get to choose. Life happens and we find ourselves dealing with it. There is seemingly so much beyond our control that we hold on to the things that are familiar, comfortable or stable – until someone or something comes along and messes with our life. Perhaps that’s why religion survives. We need the hope that all will be well.
The Israelites have made it to the land that God had promised them. They have been on a journey for years and almost nothing is the same. Sure they have something to eat and water to drink, but they still longed for the ‘good ole days of slavery in Egypt’. But now, they have settled in their new land and they are asked to make a choice – a choice for how they will live out their lives. Joshua gathers the tribes and says, “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods our ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living, …or serve the LORD.” It is an important decision because if they choose to follow God, their LORD, then they can’t change their mind later without paying the consequences. The God of the Israelites was a vengeful and jealous God, and yet the people choose to follow the one God, to forsake all those other gods. They make their choice publically in front of the assembly so as to be held accountable. They choose to stay with the God that has protected them and done great works in their sight.
This morning Jesus tells another parable about the kingdom of heaven. This one has to do with 10 maidens and their lamps. Five bring extra oil – just in case. Five do not. Well, the bridegroom is delayed and all ten lamps are low on oil. The five that brought the extra oil are present when the bridegroom comes and get into the wedding feast. The others are late because they had to run to the market to get more oil and get locked out. Culturally, at that time, “the bridegroom has gone to the home of the bride to determine and sign the marriage contract with the bride’s father and then he will return with the bride to his home (or that of his father). Since negotiations about the terms of the marriage contract could get involved, perhaps the groom’s delay should not be considered unusual. At the return with his bride, the wedding feast could begin at the bridegroom’s household. The ten maidens await the groom’s return with his bride.” (Sacra Pagina, Matthew, page 349).
Hard to say what choices were made by the maidens that led some to get extra oil and some to not bring any. Did some choose to go have manicures/pedicures in preparation for the banquet and then not have time to get to the market? We can identify with this scenario. We’ve overscheduled our day so that we don’t have time to pick up something at the market or we are late for a meeting or we miss our child’s event? And we’ve done it more than once! That’s one lesson to take from the story. Don’t get so involved with doing, that you forget to take care of living.
Jesus was speaking in parable using events from everyday life. The people listening to Matthew’s gospel would understand that he is the bridegroom and that the “maidens become positive and negative models on how to act in view of the Son of Man’s delayed arrival.” (Sacra Pagina, Matthew, page 350). This parable reiterates the need to be prepared, to be ready, “because you do not know the day or the hour.” Another lesson to take from this parable is not so much about judgment or the character of God as about being ready for the kingdom of heaven and what the time of Jesus’ return will be like.
There are two ways of looking at the “end time”. One is called cataclysmic, and the other is the continuum. The people to whom Matthew was writing lived with a belief of a cataclysmic eschatology. The Son of Man would suddenly return and if you weren’t prepared, you got left out, like the foolish maidens at the wedding banquet. My preference is the continuum, that the end time comes with the reign of God. All people on earth will work together and bring about the reign of God. We are all ready, because it can’t happen unless the whole earth is one family. It rather goes along with the vision of a loving, merciful, God. It also makes our job harder. We not only have to get our own lives in order, we need to help and support each other. In this way, we need to use the resources we receive to help bring about the reign of God (heaven on earth). That is the lesson to take from the readings today. For the people in Matthew’s day, they thought Jesus was coming at any time and had to be prepared. For us, so much time has passed; it is a matter of continuing to work more than being prepared.
We gather our pledge intentions this morning. The money is used to continue our work in bringing about the kingdom of God here in our community. I pray that we share our gifts and talents with each other and with those in need, believing that God will continue to provide for us. We, as Christians, have promised to serve the LORD. Let us follow the role model of the wise maidens and be prepared to do this work. AMEN.


Proper 25, Year A

          The collect asks God to increase in us the gifts of faith, hope and charity; make us love what you command.   In the time of Jesus, God’s commands were numerous – over 600 rules for the Jewish person to heed.  How difficult to keep all the laws, and yet the Pharisees and Sadducees and the chief priests and the elders of the temple did it.  They kept the letter of the law, but not necessarily the heart of the law.  So this morning they are still trying to trap Jesus with a test.  What is the greatest law?
          Who knows what they expected him to say.  Instead he gives us the commandment, the law that we try to live by today…”love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” is part 1 and the part 2 is to “love your neighbor as yourself”.  I’m thinking that they are impressed with his answer – not that they like it, but he sure had a good answer.  Jesus returns the favor and asks them a question, a question they cannot answer and it ends the game.  “From that day no one dared to ask him anymore questions.”  Can you love what God has commanded? 
          The theme for the Diocesan Convention was ‘travel light…leaving baggage behind.’  We spent heard about baggage from Bishop David and why it’s necessary to leave it behind.  Baggage can be things –possessions we can’t give up; possessions we love more than God or our neighbors.  Baggage can be relationships that have hurt us and hinder us from moving forward – like a diocese that has been isolated and abused.  Baggage can be ideas or habits that we’ve had for so long, we aren’t able to hear or see what new things God is doing in our community. 
Bishop David demonstrated with an amusing visual on Friday evening.  He left the Renewal of Baptismal Vows service at the peace.  When he returned he had traded his cope and miter for a fishing vest, waders, sunglasses and a hat.  He talked about when he first began fly fishing he got all the equipment and clothing so that he could fit in with other fly fishermen.  Then he proceeded to show us what he wears when he goes fly fishing.  He removed the heavy 39 pocket vest filled with all the gear.  He removed the waist high waders.  He was left in a pair of shorts, his clergy shirt, and he slipped on a pair of sandals.  Okay, I’m sure that he wears a t-shirt instead of his purple clergy shirt, but we got the idea.  Baggage needs to be set aside.  It weighs us down and hinders our ability to act.
          This reminded me of an experience I had at a women’s cursillo many years ago.  I’ve told this story before.  We were half way through the weekend and were doing an exercise of washing each other’s hands.  One woman sat at her table and sobbed.  She couldn’t have her hands washed.  Now understand she is one of the those people who are so positive, generous and loving to others that they make your day brighter just by being with them.  It took several minutes, but she was able to share her thoughts with us.  She carried so much baggage that she literally felt like she was holding it all in big shopping bags.  She couldn’t open her hands to let someone wash them because she would drop all her bags, and so she could only clench her hands shut.  Yes, she eventually was able to open her hands and place them in the basin of water, but we had no idea that she felt that way or that she carried such burdens.  We could see the joy that came from setting that baggage down.
          If we are holding on to baggage, we need to spend our time and energy focused on it – holding it, carrying it.  We can’t focus on God or on the people around us, our neighbors.  We can’t keep God’s commandment to love God with all we have and to love ourselves and our neighbor.  That is why Jesus tells those who will listen that those are the greatest commandments and all the laws are encompassed by them.  Putting God first helps us to let go of baggage.  What helps you remember to put God first?
          Our meditation this morning uses the example of making the sign of the cross.  The cross is a symbol many Christians use to help them remember to put God first, but something else may be more relevant or helpful for you.  Prayer beads, an icon, the Lord’s Prayer, a butterfly, a rainbow – whatever works for you. 
This week, think about what helps you focus on God being present.  What baggage would you like to give up?   What do you need to give up?  What do we as the community of St. Anne’s carry as baggage?  I invite you to mentally bring that baggage to the altar at the Eucharist and set it down.  Leave your baggage and open your hands to receive Christ.  Then you will be able to go out with love to put God first.   AMEN.


Proper 18, Year A

 Do this for the remembrance of me…
Note:  This is a Children’s sermon, and there are props and dialogue which will not be recorded in this sermon because it hasn’t happened yet.
 For those who are not here in person, this is the set-up.  I bring out a small table and a large bag.  The children are invited to come forward.  I begin to pull things out of the bag and set them on the table.  Some wrapped boxes…toy plastic flutes…some party hats…a pan with something baked in it…a package of candles.  Put some candles in the cake (that’s what is in the pan).  
Ask the children if they know what all of this might be for.   A birthday party?  Yes!  Do we all have birthdays?  Do you celebrate your birthday with most of these things?  Would you have a party with cake and candles, hats, presents and maybe toys to share?  We commemorate (remember in a special way) our birthday.  In the Hebrew scripture this morning we hear a story about the first commemoration of the Passover.
Moses and Pharaoh have been arguing about letting the people of Israel go from slavery in Egypt.  God has sent plagues to make Pharaoh and the Egyptians miserable so that he will let the Israelites leave.  The tenth plague is coming – “about midnight, the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die”, from Pharaoh to the slave to the livestock.  God tells Moses to have the people prepare, and put the blood of the lamb around their door.  When God comes through in the night, God will “pass over” the homes marked with blood and no plague shall destroy the firstborn of that house.  Further, God says, “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.  You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord…”  And it happened just like God said.  To this day our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the Passover feast in the spring remembering how God saved the people that night and how God has saved the people many times before and after.  To the children: Now if you will have a seat in the front or you may return to your parents if you wish.
As Christians, we don’t celebrate Passover.  The last time Jesus was in Jerusalem and celebrating the Passover meal in a room with his friends, he changed the commemoration.  He did something new.  “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat: This is my body.’  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”  (Matthew 26:26-28) 
Does that sound familiar?  That is our Christian Passover.  Every Sunday we remember how Jesus has given us life.  We celebrate the eucharist as a commemoration of what Jesus did.  He gave himself to heal the world.  Our part is to remember his gift and to try every day to love each other. 
God is always present.  Usually we need God the most when we are alone.  How can you remember that God is always with you?  For many Christians, the cross is a way to remember that God is present all the time.  I know that some of you have crosses you wear that have special meaning – maybe they were a special gift or a birthday present.  This morning, I have a cross that I invite you to take.  It’s one that can be stuck above your bed, or on the dash of your car, or on the door of your locker; somewhere you can see it to remind you that God is there.  When you need to talk to God, you can.  Put it where you might need a reminder to feel God’s presence in your day.              AMEN.


Proper 15, Year A

Have mercy on us Lord…

For those who have been to an Episcopal general convention or EYE 2014 (in person or through You Tube broadcast), you have had the experience of hearing the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry preach.  When the Bishop gets up to preach, you settle in because he is going to speak for a while – a long while in Episcopal terms.  But he is going to come at you with energy and passion. 

(Describe the experience at EYE in Philadelphia – one word “go”)

          The word this morning is mercy.  It runs through our lessons and our hymn selections at the 10 o’clock service.  Now I thought that the reading from Genesis, the end of the Joseph story, was about forgiveness, which is different than mercy.  But Joseph plays two roles; publically he is a ruler in Egypt and controls who gets food and how much in these years of wide spread famine.  Privately, he is the little brother that was sold into slavery by his siblings.  Okay, Joseph does have his fun when he accuses them as spies and has them put in prison for a few days.  He orders one brother to remain in prison while the others go back to Canaan, with full sacks of grain, and to prove they are not spies, to bring his brother Benjamin back with them to Egypt.  As a ruler, Joseph shows mercy to his brothers; as a sibling, he shows forgiveness.

          What is mercy?  What does it mean?  Checking the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, “Mercy is an attribute of both God and the good human being.  Hebrew uses several words for “mercy,” of which the most frequent is hesed, which mean loving-kindness, mercy, love, loyalty, and faithfulness.  Another Hebrew word and the Greek word for mercy in the New Testament refer to the emotion aroused by contact with undeserved suffering, that is, compassion and a deeply felt love for a fellow human being…grace is also another word used to mean mercy…Divine and human mercy are closely associated with justice and righteousness because all refer to behavior appropriate to a relationship…Jesus shows mercy to the needy…” Mercy is an attribute, showing compassion for someone suffering undeservedly.  Joseph as a ruler is providing grain to all the people who are suffering the famine, even those who are not from Egypt, because the whole area will suffer from the seven year famine.  Joseph recognizes that God has turned their actions – selling their brother into slavery – as a way to save the famiy; “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.”  In Egypt the Israelites will have a place to live and work and multiply; without it Israel’s (Jacob’s) family would perish.  Mercy, compassion for the underserved suffering.

The Gospel for this morning has an interesting and uncharacteristic story of Jesus encountering someone asking for help and his ignoring them.  We left out reading the optional story this morning of the encounter with the Pharisees where they challenge Jesus about dietary laws.  He tells the disciples that it is not what goes into a person that defiles them, but it is what comes out of a person’s mouth via their heart that defiles them.  Some time passes as they walk 25 or 30 miles over the next couple days.  Jesus must be contemplating the recent events.  A Canaanite woman comes to their group and shouts for help and mercy.  Jesus ignores her.  Then the disciples ask him to send her away; they too assume that he will help her and send her on her way.  But he tells them that he was only sent to help the house of Israel, but he has healed outcasts and Gentiles before.  His refusal to help her, even when she comes and kneels before him begging for help, isn’t what we expect. 

Jesus dismisses her with “it’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  The woman replies, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table”.  You can almost see his face break into a little smile as he tells her that her request is granted.  The woman notices that Jesus used the word, not for stray dogs that wander the streets, but for household pets.  Pets are not outsiders but insiders.  The pets do get to lie under the table and eat scraps that fall or are tossed to them.  This foreign woman asked Jesus for mercy, the same mercy Jesus had asked the Pharisees to show. 

We can have fun speculating on why Jesus acted the way he did with this woman.   Has he decided that he must give all his time and energy to his own people?  That he needs to really concentrate on helping the religious leaders to ‘see’ what God originally planned for Israel and how they may have erred?  Is it the human behavior of frustration and tired of dealing with those who just don’t get it?  Did he know that her faith was strong and that this would be a good learning exercise for his disciples and for us?

Yes, for us.  Because we are challenged daily to be merciful.  At times, showing mercy to someone we love is not the same as being nice.  The phrase ‘tough love’ comes to mind.  When our behavior is enabling or co-dependent, we are not being compassionate to one we care about.  We are not showing mercy and love because it is not a behavior appropriate to our relationship.  It is hard to change.  We, like Jesus in the gospel, are challenged to be merciful with the stranger.  One afternoon, a man pulled into the office parking lot in an old car and he looked – well – scruffy.  My first thought was ‘What now?’  But as he came to the door, I smiled and said hello.  He needed help with an address – that’s all.  He was looking for 1032 Lincoln at which point I knew he was probably looking for Lincoln Street.  But it began a very short conversation and my attitude was changed; he was not a stranger, he was a father looking for a son who was dying…so he could say good-bye.

Lord, grant me the grace to get past the ‘what now’ and be open to hearing the request for mercy.  Let your wisdom guide my responses, and may I strive to be merciful in my encounters.  AMEN. 



Rev. Anne Smith


June 8, 2014: Day of Pentecost, Year A

Text: Acts 2:1-21, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 20:19-23

Among the lesser-known Jewish holidays is Shavuot. The day of Shavuot marks seven weeks since Passover each year; Shavuot means “weeks”, and the English translation of the name for this Holy Day is the Feast of Weeks.
In the ancient Jewish tradition Shavuot was a feast of obligation—it was the time to bring the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple to be a thanksgiving offering to God.
But in Jesus’s day a shift was taking place, and Shavuot gained significance as a memorial of the covenant God had made with humankind, ultimately symbolized by the giving of the law, or Torah, to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
Even as the meaning of the day has shifted, it has always represented a significant occasion for acknowledging and giving thanks for what God has provided.
The most common name for this day is actually from the Greek. Seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot makes the celebration fall on the 50th day, and so the Greek word for “fiftieth” became its name: Pentecost.
Pentecost, a holy day for Jews from every nation to gather in Jerusalem and offer thanks to God, remembering God’s goodness and love toward them and their commitment to serve God in return.
And one year long ago, there amid the Jews renewing their commitment to the divine covenant, a gathering of the disciples of Jesus issued an invitation for people to turn to God in a brand new way. A sound like rushing wind rose up, and tongues of fire came to rest on the disciples, and they spoke. Into a crowd of Jews from every corner of the empire, the disciples spoke languages they could scarcely have named before, and foreigners caught the familiar cadences of home in speech plainly sensible to them though it came from the mouths of a few yokels from that provincial backwater, Galilee.
There on that day the Holy Spirit was poured out and people’s hearts were set ablaze. They heard a message of God’s saving power, a power made real in the person of Jesus.
Here amid a cacophony of different languages this morning we too hear this message, emerging in clear, sensible speech. The Spirit comes and we hear the message of God’s power at work from the beginning of time and even now.
We hear the song of the Psalmist recall the movement of the Holy Spirit in creation, the wisdom with which God made all things, the variety present everywhere we look! Creation is God’s delight, and the Holy Spirit is the very breath of life.
We hear the words of the prophet Joel, as he speaks of the Holy Spirit being poured out on all flesh, bringing forth new life in the midst of death, saving not just the chosen ones of Israel but people of all nations, to God’s greater glory.
We hear Jesus himself offering shalom, a word of peace and well-being, as he sends his followers into the world as he himself had been sent by God. He breathes on his friends and the Spirit comes and fills them with power, the surprising power of offering forgiveness and accountability.
Those who receive the Holy Spirit as Jesus offers it here are given the power to release the sins of any or retain the sins of any. Friends, this is the power to break the world open, to give freedom to captives and to bring justice to the oppressed.
Do you remember how Jesus practiced forgiveness? Jesus went into places where sin cast people’s lives into darkness and shadow, and he brought them healing and release. Those who suffered from blindness, paralysis, fever, bleeding, leprosy, and disease received the healing of their bodies; those who suffered analogous ailments of heart, mind, and soul received blessed release. Jesus offered forgiveness that restored suffering people to wholeness and connection with God.
But Jesus retained the sins of some. Everywhere Jesus went, he challenged the lies that held power over people’s lives. When Jesus found the tellers of lies, he confronted them with the truth. Jesus held them accountable for their sin, the sin of leading people away from God. When the Pharisees burdened the Jewish people with lies about what God required of them, Jesus held them accountable. When anyone in power dismissed another person as less than worthy for any reason—gender, status, age, ethnicity—Jesus exposed the lie. He affirmed the dignity and value of all people, but he held anyone accountable who propagated the lie that some are less-than, the lie that some are unbeloved.
Jesus gave his friends the Spirit and the power to forgive, and we have received these gifts too. In baptism, we invite the Holy Spirit to reside in us, and what potential is ours because of it! The Spirit comes and expectations break apart, and the immovable breaks free. Forgiveness, release, and new life become possible. The Spirit is poured into every believer, every servant of God, and we have such gifts to offer because of it. This body of God-loving, sin-forgiving, healing-bringing, lie-exposing faithful people, still learning ourselves to walk by grace, gets to spread the love of God and the forgiveness that frees us into every corner of the world.
Like the Jews gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost the year of that first Easter we come to this day to give thanks to God and acknowledge all that God has provided, and to be reminded of the covenant we have made with God. We renew our baptismal vows, the promises we make about how we will live our life in Christ. And I pray that we also see the continuous outpouring of the Holy Spirit and that we will receive anew our commission to bring light and love and forgiveness and justice into the world.




Lent 2, Year A 2014

There are so many stories in the news this past week that are continuing sagas.  The Malaysian airliner just disappearing off the radar.  What is happening on the Google barge?  But the one that caught my attention was echoed by an op-ed piece in the paper Friday morning – “Template for how not to raise a child” by Ruben Navarrette.  He referred to the story of Rachel Canning suing her parents for support – as she deems it – not necessarily as we would define it.  I thought about how she is looking for her parents to give so she can receive; how Rachel is not taking responsibility for or paying the price for her own needs and desires. 

Made me think about parents and children.  My dad taught me unconditional love, but that didn’t mean he didn’t let us fail.  It meant that he was there to help us when we asked, to affirm that trying our best was all he needed to be proud of us, and to let us know that he always loved us even when we messed up and had to face the consequences.  I’ve tried to be that kind of parent to my daughters. 

If we take a look at the God of the Old Testament, we get a God who would be obeyed or else.  God’s covenant with the people in the Old Testament was that they would faithfully obey God’s commands and God would deliver the blessing of a land of their own and innumerable offspring.  God would give to the people what they needed to prosper.  It’s no wonder that people today can’t identify with a God to be feared.  If you had a parent like that, you don’t want to have anything to do with God or church.

As Christians we put our faith in the loving God.  The one who’s covenant was to give his son to redeem creation once and for all.  A God who waits patiently for us to turn back when we wander off and forget to stay in touch.  Nicodemus didn’t quite know about that God.  He was familiar with the concrete God of acts and consequence.  He couldn’t understand a God that could love him so completely that God would send the only son to save us and not condemn the world. 

I used these lessons yesterday morning for the baptism of an infant, Malia Villanueva.  I talked to those gathered about the concept of being born again.  Yes, we are born through the Holy Spirit at our baptism, but it struck me that we are born again every time we make a major life change. 

It’s a new life when we get our driver’s license and savor independence, which comes with increased responsibility.  It’s a new life when we first leave home and have to support ourselves.  It’s a new life when we get married or find our life partner.  It’s a new life when we become a parent.  It’s a new life when we become a grandparent.  We are the same person and we are not the same.  Growth should happen at each of these stages.  We learn to be responsible for ourselves, for our relationships, for someone who depends on us.  More maturity is required to successfully fulfill each of these roles.  Knowing that we are loved unconditionally by God, assures us that we can learn from our mistakes without fear of never getting another chance.  That’s how much God loves us.  

          So what does God ask of us?  Simply, to do the work that helps to heal our hurting world.  As a community which stage are we in – teen, just starting to support ourselves, ready to take care of each other, ready to expand the family?  I think we’re getting close.  We need individuals volunteering to participate in at least one ministry and we need to be involved in activities that are taking place (like the First Friday concerts) to build our own sense of community.  Are we ready to go out and do that work? 

Almost.  It will happen because the Holy Spirit is active within this congregation.  We have been born again, through our baptism in the spirit, and anointed as Christ’s own forever.  We know that God promises good things to those who believe, who have faith.  God was willing to give his son for the healing of the creation, so we who believe can receive eternal life.  And the son willing gave his life so that we might receive that promise. 

What are we willing to do?  Can we continue to grow in this faith together until we are able to go out into the community and do God’s work?  This week take time and consider these questions.  We don’t have to make any decisions right away.  We just have to try to be a little better each day.   AMEN.

From the Editor: ECF Vital Practices Newsletter

February 5, 2014
This month brings the beginning of one of my favorite things: the winter Olympics.  The dates are in my calendar; I plan to spend as much time as I can watching the skating, skiing, sledding, and other events, grateful that people across the globe willingly set aside their differences and come together to play games.
In our congregations and faith communities, February often means the coming together of new leadership teams. As annual meetings are held, new vestry members are elected or selected, and appointments are made to committees and task forces. It is a time of change, a time to welcome new faces and new approaches, and a time to reflect on what’s past and consider the way forward – keeping the things that are good and finding the courage to change the things that haven’t been working too well.
Our February Vestry Papers articles share experiences of things that are working well for congregations. From the very practical – Bob Schorr’s recommendation for more productive meetings to the way the Episcopal Church in Vermont is stirring the spirit…
This month in Vestry Papers:
How might a congregation ‘refresh’ it’s spiritual identity, keeping it front and center in all that they do? “Ongoing Discernment: The Way of Jesus” by Blair Pogue shares how St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church keeps Christ at the center of all they do through their practices Dwelling in the Word and The Way of Jesus.
You’ve been elected or selected senior warden for your congregation. You’re eager to take on this challenge and, truth be told, a bit anxious. Demi Prentiss’ “Roadmap for Senior Wardens,” weaves the collective experience of senior wardens into a practical orientation tool to help you get started.
Can the Episcopal Church learn something from Tevye of “Fiddler on the Roof?” In “Stirrings of the Spirit” Tom Ely and Susan Ohlindal use Tevye’s struggle to adapt to the changes he faces to introduce the ways the Episcopal Church in Vermont is “open [ing] ourselves to new understandings and expressions of what it means to be spiritual beings.”
Could the way you run your meetings be keeping people away from leadership positions? Many of us have sat through meetings that drone on and on, spending valuable time dealing with routine reports or rehashing business from earlier meetings. To help congregational leaders break that cycle, Bob Schorr offers “The Consent Agenda: More Efficient Meetings.”
In addition to these new Vestry Papers articles, ECF Vital Practices offers many other resources for congregational leaders. Recently, Linda Grenz, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Rhode Island and founder of LeaderResources shared a piece on vestry orientation. You’ll find her piece, The Vestry Hand-Off: Orientation for new members in Your Turn.  Do you have a resource you’d like to share with other congregations? Consider posting it on Your Turn: If you’ve a subscriber, click on the Make a Submissionbutton. Not a subscriber? It’s easy – and free – just click here.
If you are interested in seeing our Spanish language content, please visit our new, searchable index for our Spanish content here; then click on the “ECFVP en Español” button on the right side of the page.
And, please remember to share this issue of Vestry Papers with others in your congregation, along with an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices. Subscriptions are free; visit and click on the Subscribe tab on the upper right hand corner of this page. New subscribers are asked to fill out a short registration form to have Vestry Papers and ECF Vital Practices content delivered twice a month to your email inbox.
Nancy Davidge
Editor, ECF Vital Practices

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Tools & Resources

Great Vestry Retreats: Check out some great resources for orientations, retreats, and running meetings to kick-start your new leadership team.
Winter ECF Webinars: With topics from Vestry Orientation to Basics of Endowments, register now for an upcoming webinar and enjoy viewing archived webinars, all for free!
Vestry Resource Guide: Get your copy of the award-wining guide for being on the vestry.

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