Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Prayer and Politics

I’m taking a risk today and writing about the election.  My hesitancy isn’t because I may upset some people (I will not endorse any candidate), but that the atmosphere around the election has become so emotionally charged that well-intentioned people find it difficult to even think about politics without feeling anxious, suspicious or even fearful.  We cannot, as Christians, accept that type of human-created fear.  Regardless of who is elected this year, we need to claim our joy as Christians and do what we should do best - PRAY!

Forward Movement, the publishing house that prints Day by Day and many other evangelism resources, saw an opportunity to call upon all Christians, especially Episcopalians (it is an Episcopal institution), to offer prayer for our country, our elected officials and ourselves for 30 days prior to the election.  That started last Sunday on October 9th, so I apologize for being 4 days late, but I know God will forgive.  You can find much more information here.  There are resources for the weekly theme, daily prayers and a great reminder that the Church is to stand as a prophetic voice to any government, helping advocate for the voiceless and ensuring dignified treatment of all people.

I also believe we are called to ask for healing in our country.  There is a rift in our society that has been exposed.  The discontent is impossible to articulate simply, but the desire is to blame someone for whatever caused the problem.  People start verbally and physically attacking each other rather than FIRST seeing the other as a CHILD OF GOD who deserves respect of their dignity.  We cannot lose this basic understanding of our faith.  We must claim this truth – especially for those we disagree with – or we might lose too much.

I give thanks for the fact that at St. Barnabas we have people with very different points of view who are able to come and break bread together, to have time to fellowship with each other, and learn from each other.  Healing must begin with such honesty, even about our own fears and doubts, in order to find Christ in the midst of our brokenness.

We should remember March 4, 1797 (guess who went to Independence Hall this summer!).  That date is significant because it was when John Adams, our second president was inaugurated.  Many countries around the world were waiting for our nascent democratic country to fall into civil unrest or even war, but what happened was a peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next.  It was an incredible accomplishment, yet we have repeated it 43 more times. 

I have faith we will achieve it the 45th time as well.  The person inaugurated may not be the person we personally want in that roll, but we are still called upon, as Christians, to offer prayer for that individual and for all those who offer themselves in political service.  And when those elected officials don’t do what we want, then we have the opportunity and obligation to offer our voice – with respect – into the political arena. 

In light of all this, I offer the Litany of Sound Government to begin our prayer as we seek to do God’s will on earth:
O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth. Lord, keep this nation under your care.

To the President and members of the Cabinet, to Governors of States, Mayors of Cities, and to all in administrative authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties. Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

To Senators and Representatives, and those who make our laws in States, Cities, and Towns, give courage, wisdom, and foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to fulfill our obligations in the community of nations. Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

To the Judges and officers of our Courts give understanding and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and justice served. Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name. For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Amen.

In Christ,

Rev. Valerie+

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Storms and Seeds

I am mindful that as I write this, there are many in Haiti who are facing catastrophe on a scale which I am completely unfamiliar.  For those whose lives have been reduced to the core of simple survival, we pray you feel God’s presence. For those in the Bahamas and lands further north preparing for the storm, we pray you feel God’s mercy.  For those who are mobilizing to respond to the needs of all those affected by Hurricane Matthew, we pray for God’s speed.  If you feel prayer is not enough, I encourage you to offer a donation to Episcopal Relief and Development or the Red Cross. 

Such a storm reminds us of the barest parts of our faith, seeking to find meaning that can sometimes disappoint.  Why would a loving God hit such a poor nation with yet another disaster in less than a decade?  Some will offer (erroneously, I believe) that sin caused such a situation.  I do not believe that the Haitians are any worse or better than another nation or people, nor should they be singled out as being recipients of God’s “wrath,” which is how some rationalized Hurricane Katrina. 

I believe the real test of faith comes after such storms and disasters, when humanity can raise above ourselves and help our neighbors, not just because it feels good, but because God requires us to.  By supporting our neighbor in any way we can, we are sharing God’s love and saving presence.  Out of disaster can come rebirth and new life. But we must get clean water to those in need first.

When our basic needs are met, then we can make the time to contemplate the “why” questions and begin to shape our understanding of who and what God is.  Unfortunately, many stop their pursuit of such inquires, so when events happen in life that bring into question their understandings, many give up on God. 

We need to make the opportunities to nurture our faith more plentiful and supportive, to seek and find God when we are not in crisis so that we have a solid and stable faith foundation.  We need to make time to care and tend to our relationship with God with intentionality.

As I have confessed many times, I’m not much of a gardener.  I’m lucky I keep my house plants alive. But I know the value of planting seeds and nurturing them, especially the seeds of our faith.  For many of us, they were planted long ago by a parent, priest or Sunday School teacher, and nurtured over the years by worship, study and experience.  What is critically important is that we don’t allow our faith to atrophy due to neglect or fatigue. 

I am disappointed that the retreat we had planned was not able to run, but the timing was not good.  I do apologize for that.  I am thrilled to say that we are working on making that program happen during the season of Lent – more on that later.  When I talked about the retreat, several mentioned that they miss being on retreat and want the opportunity to do so again.  I agree.  Making time to be with God, beyond worship and study, is crucial to our spiritual development.  It is really just time to be.  Too often we are so busy being busy that we don’t make the time to just be.

In light of this, I am going to offer a series of mini-retreats for the months leading up to Lent.  They will be on Saturday morning from 9 AM – 12 noon on October 22nd, November 19th, and December 17th (2017 dates TBD).  I’m still working on the topics, but the intention will not be doing but being. For this series of retreats, you do not need to sign up or come to all of them (although that is encouraged).  This is our opportunity to grow in the Spirit together, tending our spiritual gardens in order to be in a better relationship with God, so that when life gets messy, we don’t get lost. 

I hope you will join me on this journey. 

In Christ,

Rev. Valerie+

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Lord God, Creator and Redeemer of us all

I remember my first visit to a planetarium.  It was a school trip to the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History in New York City, which was exciting enough. And yet the opportunity to sit in these weird seats while the sky spun around me was truly awesome.  I recall feeling really small after that experience (and indeed every time I’ve been to a planetarium since) because the program reminded me of just how small a part I am in an extremely large universe.  It puts things into a perspective that is helpful.  It doesn’t diminish my cares and occupations to seem meaningless, but it does remind me of just how big God is.  God is the Creator of all – ALL – and I doubt we have even scratched the surface of what that means.

In the latter part of the Season after Pentecost, we will take the opportunity for the next 5 weeks to highlight in our liturgy what it means to be in relationship with the Creator, what position humans have in Creation, and how we can share our love of God by being in right relationship with creation.  It is a time to celebrate all that we have been given to enjoy and how best to do that for the benefit of all.

It is an opportunity to think of our vocation of stewards of what we have been given, as humans are appointed by God in Genesis.  As stewards, we have authority over creation, but that does not mean it is ours to abuse.  This authority is God given and meant to be used with love and compassion, not for our own gain.  Such authority finds its power in giving, not getting.  It comes with much responsibility rather than claiming rights.  Unfortunately, much of human history does not demonstrate adhering to these ideals.

We need to claim the title of “Steward” as much as we claim the identity of “Christian.”  It is what we are, showing and sharing our faith through our actions and deeds.  And it helps remind us that we are not the Creator, but part of the created order with a critical role to fulfill. I cannot create anything.  All I make comes from something God created first. My stewardship of those resources is a blessed responsibility, and one none of us should take lightly.

So we will make time to reflect and give thanks for the awesome wonder that Creation is.  We will be mindful of our stewardship and consider how we might exercise that duty better.  And we will celebrate that, even though humans are a small part of this great Creation, the Creator loves each and every one of us deeply.

If that doesn’t make you feel important, nothing will!

In Christ,

Rev. Valerie+

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Red Letter Day

Today, September 21st, is a red-letter day because it is the Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist.  Or at least it is on my Church Calendar. On my more secular calendar, the notation is that today is the U.N. International Day of Peace. I have a feeling that both events will go unnoticed by the majority of people today, but that shouldn’t prevent us, as people of faith, to celebrate and draw a connection between them.

The tradition of making important words stand out in red ink started in medieval time, and they became known as rubrics.  For those of you who are real Church geeks, you will know that we also call all the instructions in the Book of Common Prayer about how to offer liturgies are also called rubrics, however in most modern copies of the BCP, they are italicized and not written in red (although I have seen some versions that do use red!).  The practice of using red to signify something important continued with the printing press, and it is a short-hand way on calendars to highlight special days and holidays.  Through the ages, a “red letter day” became jargon for an extraordinarily wonderful day in a person’s life.  Ironically, while most Christian calendars use of red to indicate a feast day, it also connotes martyrdom, an extraordinarily bad day in a person’s life. 

In the case of St. Matthew, as one of the original 12 apostles, his remembrance is a Feast Day, so it is a red-letter day. There is some debate as to whether or not he died a martyr, but since many of the first apostles were put to death for their faith, it is possible Matthew was as well.  Regardless, we should take the time to celebrate a man who, by being open to the Word of God and writing down that message, has influenced billions of people throughout the ages. I know of many people whose first book of the Bible they read was Matthew’s Gospel.  It is a great place to start and an opportunity to learn how to make more of our own day’s red-letter.

Matthew’s Gospel ends with the Great Commission, where Jesus sends his followers out into the world to baptize all believers.  This action is not to be done by force or coercion, but through teaching and relationship.  At the core, that is what the U.N. International Day of Peace is about, being in relationship with our neighbor rather than at war. 

Tragically, too many wars have been fought and lives lost over religious difference and intolerance.  Even now we see this happening with ISIS/L and other militant groups.  This is not the faith that Jesus taught or Matthew shared.  Jesus’s own death at the hands of an intolerant system should indict us all of condemning the other simply because we do not believe what they do.  This is the real work we must do, to love those who hate us, even though we have not done anything specifically to them. 

It will be a red-letter day indeed if we, as the human family, can ever get to a place of real peace in our world.  I don’t think it is impossible, but it is extremely difficult, especially when we have to offer space to the other.  I hope and pray with each day we get a bit closer to seeing each other as brothers and sisters and not enemies, as we are all children on God.  No matter what color we are. 

In Christ,
Rev. Valerie+

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


A couple of weeks ago, our Minister of Music, Thomas Williams, chose the song “Give me oil in my lamp” for the Gradual song before the Gospel Reading Luke 12:32-40, where Jesus mentions bridesmaids and their lamps.  It was a fun song that I don’t remember singing before, but it seemed that several people at church did.

Well, this week we are supporting the Jesus Way Day Camp from Crossroads being held at our longtime partners in ministry, Christ the King Lutheran Church. Lo and behold – what song do they sing? “Give me oil in my lamp!”  However, like any good Christian camp song, it has a couple of extra verses in it that are a bit different from what we sang during worship.

“Give me wax for my board to keep me surfin’ for the Lord. Cowabunga!”

“Give me gas for my Ford to keep me truckin’ for the Lord. Honk Honk!”

As you might imagine, the kids love the silliness of these verses (and hand motions, of course), but more importantly, they are learning about the joy of faith.  This is critical for all of us in our Christian Formation, to seek and find God’s presence in plain, old FUN! 

Even as adults, with the all serious concerns and responsibilities of life, we need to find ways and make time to just enjoy God's presence. That can be in laughing at ourselves, enjoying children playing, or being in God's awesome Creation.  It is a good reminder to find God's joy in order to balance everything else. 

Day Camp has been a great experience so far.  The counselors from Crossroads have been great with endless enthusiasm, patience and encouragement for the kids.  Their love of Jesus is obvious in all they do and how they interact with the kids.  They want to share the love of Christ – and for camp!

The kids have been getting into the songs, Bible stories, games and water play – refreshing on a hot day. If you would like to see what they have been doing this week, ALL are invited to come to Christ the King on Thursday at 3 PM to see a program presented for friends and family.  Since we won’t have the traditional service celebrating the end of Vacation Bible School, this is your opportunity to see what the kids have been up to this week and enjoy their enthusiasm. 

The Vestry and I thank you very much for your support of this program and others that help support people beyond our congregation, like the Youth Mission Trip, Elijah’s Promise and Christ Church Food Pantry.  All of these are important ways to practice our faith beyond the walls of our Sanctuary.

I will be starting my vacation on Monday and will return on September 13th, ready for joy of the Fall.

In Christ’s Love,

Rev. Valerie+

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Because I Know Jesus

I am always impressed by Christians who are willing to witness to Jesus at work in their lives whenever and wherever.  This happened recently at the Olympic Games during an interview with David Boudia and Steele Johnson, who had just won a Silver Medal in Men’s 10M Synchronized Diving. The reporter asked the pair how they had prepared for this event that has been dominated by the Chinese, who set an Olympic Record Score in the event to win Gold.  In his response, Boudia said something about Jesus, but it was so quick, I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly, something about, “because I know Jesus, it would all be OK, no matter what happened.”  In that moment of heightened emotion, I was impressed he thought about Jesus, but it seemed like a side comment.

Then Johnson responded, and while I cannot quote him directly, he essentially said that, like David, because he knows Jesus, the result of the competition would not change who he was, but it was a blessing and honor win an Olympic Medal for himself and his country. 

Wow. Olympic athletes that do not stake their identities on winning Gold but rather on knowing that Jesus is their Lord and Savior.  And they are willing to testify to that on an international broadcast.  I also noticed, at one point when the camera was panning over to the pair to catch every single emotion and gesture following the results, they were huddled with their coach(es) and trainers, and I thought, “That looks like they are praying.” (This was before the interview.)  Yup, they were. 

Obviously there is a culture within that team (perhaps not the entire US Diving Team, but at least for Boudia and Johnson) that puts their relationship with God first.  I was both impressed and humbled.  
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, St. Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  I have no doubt that if this team had finished dead last, they still would have gathered for prayer, and while being tremendously disappointed, it would not have changed their dedication to God. Such dedication is seen even when their heads are not bowed and they are not using words, they are praying.  Their dives were prayer.

What would our lives look like if we would make the same commitment to remember, “To God be the Glory” in everything we do?  To me, it takes off the pressure of having my identity contingent on what I accomplish. If I truly and honestly believe that I am a beloved Child of God, anything else is icing on the cake.  Granted, it always feels great to achieve a goal, but it should not define who we are. If our identity is only defined by what we do, when we fail, it can feel like we are worthless. 

That is exactly what our life in Christ overcomes.  We are worthy because we are, not because we do!  I am so grateful for Boudia and Johnson of confessing their faith in such a way to remind those of us who will never be elite athletes that God loves us for who we are, not for what we accomplish.  While those Silver Medals will look splendid around their necks, it does not even compare to the seal of Christ on their hearts – and on our own as well.

2 Corinthians 9:13-14 
Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you.

In Christ,

Rev. Valerie+

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

This Far by Faith

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

Several years ago, on some road trip, I remember seeing a license plate from Missouri with the inscription, “The Show-Me State.”  Since I was born and raised in New Jersey, I had little to no idea about what Missouri was like or why it would require tangible evidence.  I would later learn that this adage came from U.S. Congressman Willard Vandiver in an 1899 speech, where he said, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”

From the point of view where “actions speak louder than words,” this requirement seems less of a demand than a reasonable request.  None of us want to be taken as a fool or considered gullible.  Promises are great, but until we have hard evidence that the promise is being kept, we will remind skeptical.

The above quote from Paul to his letter to the Hebrews seems to countermand the demand for evidence.  It brings to mind the scene of “Doubting Thomas” stating he must put his fingers in the holes on Christ’s body before he will believe in the resurrection.  When Thomas does meet the resurrected Christ and he is invited to touch the wounds, he doesn’t, yet he proclaims, “’My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’” (John 20:28-29)

So where does all of this rhetoric leave us?  For many, the crux of the “problem” of faith is that it deals with something so intangible that it difficult to even express what we do hope for.  And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, there are promises that we think we have been given, such as if I am a good person and follow the rules, good things should happen to me; or belief in God will make life easy.  Crises of faith happen when (inevitably) events happen that are difficult, challenging, even heart-breaking.  In those moments, when what we thought we were promised falls apart, we can begin to question where God is in the midst of all of it.

This is when we need to be truthful about what God did promise, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” (Jeremiah 7:23) “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).  “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him would not die but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) There are more, but, as these examples show, we are not promised an easy life regardless of how good we are, but we are promised that we are loved and God is always with us.  Even when we feel far away from God, God is still with us.  The challenge is allowing ourselves to be open to the ways God is with us that are less empirically evident.  God is in the deep breath that lowers our heart rate and allows more oxygen to flow to our brains when we are in the midst of a crisis.  God is in the hug from a loved one “just cause.”  God is in the glories of creation, majestic mountains and roaring oceans, even in what some might call a “weed.” 

Do we choose to pay heed to these things?  Are they not enough evidence to satisfy our skepticism?  Perhaps, but that is why we PRACTICE our faith, because that is how we get better with seeking and finding God.  Indeed, the more we practice, the easier it is to have faith in what is not seen, because we can FEEL God’s presence in the midst of our joys and sorrows, the good and the difficult, the blessings and the heart-aches.  That is the true test of faith.

In Christ,

Rev. Valerie+