Monthly Archive for June, 2010

Pentecost 5 June 27, 2010

Galatians 5:1, 13-25                                                          

Luke 9:51-62                                                                      

I buried a woman once who’d grown up in Holy Cross when it was in East Weare village. Among the people who came forward to speak at her funeral was a grandson, a young man who is mildly retarded. I was a little nervous about what he might say, but his words about his grandmother were beautiful. “She called me her little tagalong,” he said. “I was always trying to follow her. I had trouble keeping up, but then she would turn and wait for me.”

I thought about what that young man said as I prayed with the gospel passage this morning. It is the beginning of the long central section of Luke’s gospel, where Luke departs from the structure of Mark’s gospel which he’s been following to this point and gives us a series of sayings and wonders set in the context of Jesus journeying to Jerusalem and his final destination on the Cross. “As the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up,” Luke begins, “he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Continue reading ‘Pentecost 5 June 27, 2010’

“Come and See” Survey Results

Twenty people answered the “Come and See” evaluation survey. Two-thirds of them reported inviting at least one family or individual to attend one of the three Come and See Sundays in April and May. This probably means that those who “got with” the project are disproportionately represented in the responses, which could skew the results towards the positive side. In any event, of the respondents, 47% were strongly positive overall to the project, 42% positive, and 10% somewhat negative. The negative responses reflected a feeling on the part of a few people that too much pressure was put on everyone to invite someone.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how many people came,” wrote one respondent. “I thought the concept to be a good fit for Holy Cross,” said another. “It was fun meeting new people and greeting old friends.” “I was thrilled to see the extra people at church.” “Valuable approach to encourage me to reach out.” “When we do good we must tell someone. We do and we did!” “The materials and the diocesan support really helped make this a good program. I think we could do more advertising with more lead time and more planning, but overall it seemed to unite people and bring new life into the parish. I wish we could find more young families interested in church.” “I had a lot of anxiety at first,” said one person, probably speaking for others. “But having the cards and the thank-you cards to follow up helped break the ice with those I invited. I could write to them first and then follow up, which was much more comfortable for me.

Those who explained why they didn’t invite anyone had a variety of reasons, including fear of rejection if someone said no (as many did!), people they know having a negative view of organized religion, living at too great a distance from church, and not being available on the designated Sundays.

There were some helpful suggestions for the program if or when we do it again. A number of people thought that more lead time, more training and more thorough planning would be helpful — reflecting the fact that the timetable for the project was indeed very tight. Some people suggested doing such a program annually; one person suggested a quarterly Come and See Sunday; one person suggested more emphasis on the invitation pledge forms.

One of the respondents was a person who had been invited to “Come and See.” “I was touched by the welcoming nature of the congregation and the priest,” she wrote. “I was compelled by the honesty and intelligence of the sermon. I think I’ve become a regular. I am reading and thinking. Asking. Reading a bit more [about the Anglican approach to Christianity]. Praying.” What a nice response!

Pentecost 4 June 20, 2010

Galatians 3:23-29                                                                              

Luke 8:26-39                                                                      

This morning is an unusual one at little Holy Cross Church. This homily will be preached only at 8:00, the Eucharist that we add in the summer for a handful of people who want to go off and play for the rest of the day. At 10:00, the preacher will be the Reverend Mary Tusuubira. Mother Mary is from the Anglican Church of Uganda. She and her sister were the first two women ordained priest on the continent of Africa. Mother Mary’s husband is also a priest, her brother (killed in a tragic accident last winter) was a bishop. She founded a congregation of Ugandan immigrants in Waltham which grew to 500 and is now doing the same work in Lowell. She supports herself as a caregiver to an elderly woman, sending as much of her earnings as she can back to her husband in Uganda to support his work keeping the orphaned children of AIDS victims together in families in their villages.

So at Holy Cross we hear today’s gospel story of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac against the story of Mother Mary and the Anglican Church of Uganda. St. Luke took the story of the demoniac, like most of the rest of his gospel, from St. Mark’s gospel. Luke wrote 10 or 20 years after Mark, and for a different audience – Gentile converts to Christianity rather than the Jewish Christians for whom Mark wrote. Mark wrote in the aftermath of the Roman takeover of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, the scattering of Jewish believers, including the followers of Jesus. His gospel is urgent, a “gospel in time of war.” Mark has no brief for either the Jewish authorities or the Roman occupiers.

Luke wrote for people who had no quarrel with the Romans, who indeed wanted to live peaceably under the Empire. To Luke’s Gentile audience, the destruction of the temple was not of great importance. Luke was writing to set the story of Jesus in a broader historical context, to affirm the faith of a congregation that wanted to understand how their new Christianity fit into the Classical world view.

So in Mark’s account, the fact that the demons possessing this man were “Legion” linked the story to the Roman army occupying Judea. The fact that these demons were driven into swine had significance for Jewish believers, who understood that swine were unclean. And the fact that the story is set in Gentile territory, would have been a sign to Mark’s hearers that the Gospel of Jesus was a challenge to both Jews and Gentiles. But Luke smooths away what he saw as the rough edges of Mark’s account. He is simply interested in presenting a story of the power of faith to heal. His account of the Gerasene demoniac is set in a series of stories about faith, intended to affirm the faith of the new Gentile Christian community.

Christians in Uganda, or Ugandan Christian immigrants in Lowell, similarly stand in a different context from Christians in Holy Cross, Weare, New Hampshire. The Church in Uganda is an amazing story of the power of faith in the face of violence, persecution and martyrdom. Each June 3, the Episcopal Church calendar of saints celebrates the feast of the Martyrs of Uganda. These martyrs were a group of young men, pages in the court of the King of Buganda, one of the tribal groups which the British had put together administratively in their new colony of Uganda. The young men had been Christianized by Anglican and Catholic missionaries, who were allowed to operate among the court circles. Their new faith clashed with some of the cultural ways of their past, leading the King to demand that they recant. They refused and were burnt to death on June 3, 1886.

This martyrdom, however, had entirely the opposite result from what the King intended. The example of the young men, who walked to their death singing hymns and praying for their enemies, so inspired many of the bystanders that they too converted. Within a few years, the original handful of Christians among the elite had multiplied many times and spread far beyond the court. Uganda is now the most Christian nation in Africa, and the most Anglican in the world.

Persecution of Christians was renewed in the 1970s under the Muslim military dictatorship of Idi Amin. Among thousands of Anglican and Roman Catholic martyrs to Amin’s violence was Janani Luwum, Anglican Archbishop of Uganda. Luwum, a gentle and peaceable man, had protested Amin’s rule. He was seized at night and murdered, buried secretly in his ancestral village. But again, as the old saying goes, the blood of the martyrs proved to be the seed of the Church. Luwum was a revered and beloved figure, and his murder focused the world’s attention and led to the overthrow of Amin, further strengthening the Church in what remains a poor country, devastated now by a new enemy, AIDS.

Through history, Christianity (and other religions) flourish when believers call upon their faith to inspire and strengthen them in the face of opposition. The story of Jesus, his courage, his commitment, his willingness to die upon the Cross forgiving his enemies – is a story new in every age and place where violence, tyranny, injustice and oppression flourish. That is why Christianity is so vital today in places like Uganda. It is the seductive comfort of life in America that makes Christian faith seem unnecessary or even impossible to so many. We New Hampshire Episcopalians whine about our budget cut-backs and the inability to find clergy to serve part-time congregations. Mother Mary takes herself off to a distant country to minister for a pittance to her brothers and sisters in need, supporting herself with secular work, sending money back to help with the work of the Church at home.

And so, listening to this morning’s gospel, we must ask: Who in this story of two countries, two continents, two Churches, is possessed by demons? Who lives among the tombs? Who is bound in chains? Who is not in their right mind? Who is in need of healing and liberation? The Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to all men and women. What does it say to us, in our place and time, here today?

Pentecost 3 June 13, 2010

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15                                          

Luke 7:36-8:3                                                                     

My grandfather lived in a little coalmining town in Pennsylvania. Across the street lived a couple who never spoke to one another. They communicated through a married daughter who lived down the block. They’d divided the house between them: she had the kitchen, the back porch and a little room where she slept. He had the living and dining rooms, the front porch, and upstairs. They ate all their meals sitting on opposite ends of a table placed in the doorway between the dining room and the kitchen, he on the dining room end, she on the kitchen end. They’d lived this way for years. My grandfather said they’d long ago forgotten what they’d fought about.

For most of us, most of the time, forgiveness when we think about it is probably just a little footnote in our lives, like saying please and thank you, excuse me, I beg your pardon. But for God and for Jesus, forgiveness is one of the center points of life. Continue reading ‘Pentecost 3 June 13, 2010’

Pentecost 2 June 6, 2010

1 Kings 17:17-24                                                                 June 6, 2010

Luke 7:11-17                                                                       John L. McCausland

The Bible is peppered with poor widows. Like the two in the readings today, they are almost all nameless. Women in general in biblical society were without rights, including the right to own property. Indeed, they were themselves property, property of the men in their lives: first of their fathers, then of their husbands, then of their sons. And if they were widowed, they depended completely on their children, particularly their male children, to support and protect them. So these two stories tell us something important when they explain that in each case the widows had only one son, and that son was dead. Here we have two women utterly without earthly security, as good as without identity or meaning.

Why is the Bible so fond of these poor widows? I think it’s because you and I, all of us, are in reality just a few steps away from poor widowhood ourselves. Yes, of course, we have legal rights and a social safety net and material comforts beyond what all but a tiny few enjoyed in the time of Jesus. But for all of that, we really don’t have much control over our lives and the world. We have little idea what the world will be like in 50 years, whether there will even be human beings on the earth’s face. And in the shorter range, we don’t know about our own health five years from now, or the security of our children or grandchildren. So the poor widows of Scripture are Everyman, Everywoman, the human condition stripped of illusions — us. Continue reading ‘Pentecost 2 June 6, 2010’

Annual Barbecue and Yard Sale Photo Album

Nancy Stehno and Dani Bond-Ishak trades laughs over watermelon and rolls.

Nancy Stehno and Dani Bond-Ishak trades laughs over watermelon and rolls.

Old tools, always of interest to guys at the yard sale.

Old tools, always of interest to guys at the yard sale.

Yardsale faces: Abbie, soon to be a Florida coed.

Yardsale faces: Abbie, soon to be a Florida coed.

Yardsale faces: Motorcycle Mike

Yardsale faces: Motorcycle Mike

Yardsale faces: Aidan and Ian, boys of summer.

Yardsale faces: Aidan and Ian, boys of summer.

Kitchen crew: Cathy Arredondo and Dani Bond-Ishak.

Kitchen crew: Cathy Arredondo and Dani Bond-Ishak.

Down South they call it the "gospel bird."

Down South they call it the "gospel bird."

 

 

Waiting customers: the Combs family.

Waiting customers: the Combs family.

Happy eaters.

Happy eaters.

A wll-earned rest.

A well-earned rest.

Parishioners Share Emmaus Moments

On the Sundays during Easter this year, Holy Cross, Weare, members shared “Emmaus Moments” with the congregation. The project, which was received with warm appreciation, grew out of Holy Cross’s experience in recent years with “Ministry Minutes” during the fall pledge season. Like Ministry Minutes, Emmaus Moments were about 3-5 minutes long, offered right before the Peace. Where Ministry Minutes deal with people’s feelings about the parish and what it means to them, Emmaus Moments have a broader focus.

The name comes from the passage in Luke 24:13-35, in which two dejected disciples are walking away from Jerusalem on the afternoon of the first Easter. As they go, they are joined by a stranger, who explains how Scripture anticipated the crucifixion of Jesus. Inviting this stranger to dine with them when they reach their destination, the village of Emmaus, they realize “in the breaking of bread” that he is Jesus himself. So Emmaus Moments are accounts of times in people’s lives when the God of Jesus Christ seemed to break through and be particularly close to them.

The participants in the Emmaus Moments project chose very different moments to share with the congregation. Marge Burke led off with the feeling of Christ’s intimate closeness and reassurance she had received on learning of her mother’s terminal illness. Her husband Donald shared his experience of overcoming fear while sailing through a hurricane on a Navy LST. Will Townsend talked about the new understanding he’d gained of the presence of God in Scripture after reading a book by Bishop John Spong, which had opened his eyes to a non-literalist way of receiving biblical authority. High school senior Abbie Stehno talked about the trip she made with classmates during spring break to work with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans, where in nailing siding next to people who would be occupying the house they were working with, she realized that she was not just building a house, but a home. Her spiritual reflections on the trip were consolidated as she sat for three hours by the roadside in New Jersey on the trip home after the bus broke down! Tina Compagna talked about how God was revealed to her through the suffering of her mother from chronic illness. Laura Starr-Houghton’s Moment had to do with the birth of her son, suffering from a serious birth defect; it was particularly poignant because Connor, now a healthy 6 foot 4 inch high school junior, was being confirmed that afternoon. Continue reading ‘Parishioners Share Emmaus Moments’