God Within 1-6-2019

January 6th, 2019

True story:
The congregation was very proud of their beautiful church, which had stood proudly on the village common for generations.
But, one night just before Thanksgiving, a spark in the heating system ignited a fire that destroyed the New England clapboard structure. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the congregation was devastated.
As soon as the fire marshal gave the all-clear, the stunned pastor and parishioners combed the rubble to salvage the few things they could.
Then, interesting things began to happen.
A nearby church — a congregation that the displaced parish had little to do with before — offered them the use of their religious education building for services and meetings for as long as they needed it. Churches from nearby towns offered hymnals and other supplies; several churches took up a special collection for the congregation.
At the first service following the fire, the congregation, who were used to sitting in their “own” places at a comfortable distance from one another, found themselves sitting side-by-side on folding chairs. After the service, teams started to form to deal with insurance issues, organize temporary arrangements for religious education and parish programs, and to sketch out first plans to rebuild. The pastor tapped the expertise of everyone in the parish to help — and everyone readily signed on. Parishioners who knew one another only by name, who had, until then, exchanged pleasant but perfunctory hellos on Sunday, were now working together to rebuild not just their beautiful building but the community they had taken for granted.
And, in their grief and loss that first Sunday morning in their temporary quarters, they prayed and sang in a way few had ever experienced before.
In the new journey they had begun as a church, they had rediscovered the God within.

The Epiphany of the Lord is a story about seeking and finding the God within, the God in our midst. As the magi undertakes a long and arduous journey by the light of the mysterious star to find the newborn king (encountering, among other things, a murderous tyrant along the way), the suddenly churchless parish rediscovers, in their coming together to deal with the catastrophe, the Spirit of God in their midst. The Epiphany challenges us to slow down and check our own bearings on our life’s journey, to focus on the “star” we should follow to make our lives all that God has created them to be, to fix our lives on the constant, eternal values of peace, compassion, mercy, justice, forgiveness that are the unmistakable signs of God within our hearts and homes.

The Feast of the Holy Family 12-30-2018

December 31st, 2018

During his 1967 Super Bowl season with the Green Bay Packers, the great quarterback Bart Starr had a deal with his oldest son. For every perfect paper Bart Junior brought home from school, Bart Starr would give him ten cents – a pretty nifty sum of money for a kid back then.
In the course of the season, Starr had a particularly rough game against the (then) St. Louis Cardinals. Starr was discouraged and angry about his own performance. He returned home late that night, weary and battered, after a long plane ride. But his spirits lifted immediately when he found this note on his pillow:
Dear Dad, I thought you played a great game. Love, Bart.
And taped to the note were two dimes.
Within our families we experience the heights of joy and the depths of pain. Our belonging to a family means that each one of us – parent and child – reflects for the other the selfless, limitless and unconditional love of Christ, both in good times and (more importantly) in bad times. The Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus, in the suffering and tragedy they endured together, is a model for us and our own families as we confront the many tensions and crises that threaten the stability, peace and unity that are the joys of being a family.
I would like to leave you with this thought today; in the midst of all the wild and weird conflicts we may face in our families, God wants to be part of them. In the midst of the shouting matches, doors being slammed, people pouting and not speaking to each other, holding grudges, and in alcoholic or abusive situations, GOD THE HOLY IS THERE! God is not embarrassed to be there and God wants to help.
As we begin the year of 2019, I pray that as we face conflicts in our families, when we feel overwhelmed and everything seems impossible and we try to resolve our differences – that we will be humble and wise enough to seek help for ourselves. Especially, the comfort, the grace and the peace that God alone can offer our families.

Christmas 2018 12-25-2018

December 23rd, 2018

Wally was big for a first grader. Everybody loved Wally. No bully, he was the gentlest of souls. Wally was a friend even to the smallest kids at school.
When the school staged its Christmas play, Wally wanted to be one of the shepherds. But the teacher directing the play had a larger role in mind for Wally. Wally was cast as the innkeeper. Wally practiced and practiced, but became more and more nervous about his lines.
The night of the play, everything was going beautifully. Then came the part where Mary and Joseph knocked on the door of the inn. Wally answered the door right on cue and gave his line.
“What do you want?”
“We seek lodging,” came the response.
“Seek it elsewhere, the inn is filled,” Wally replied, with just the right touch of brusque annoyance.
“But, sir, we have tried everywhere, we have come a long way, and we are very tired.”
“Go away,” Wally properly commanded. “There is no room in my inn for you.”
“But sir, my wife is with child. Don’t you have a corner where we can get out of the cold?”
That’s when it happened. Wally broke his icy stare and looked at Mary. There was a long silence. The audience became nervous and uneasy. Everyone thought Wally had forgotten his lines.
“No, be gone,” the prompter whispered.
“No, be gone,” Wally said halfheartedly. Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary as they began to move off the stage. Wally couldn’t stand it any longer. Big he was, cruel he could never be. With big tears welling in his eyes he gave a performance never to be forgotten.
“Wait, Joseph, don’t go!” Wally cried. “Bring Mary back. You can have my room and I’ll sleep in the cold.”
A few people thought Wally had ruined the Christmas pageant. But most knew better.
Wally the reluctant innkeeper embodied the spirit of our Christmas celebration, expressed so eloquently in Isaac Watts’ beautiful hymn: “let every heart prepare him room.” The reality is that Christmas is a challenge to us and our values and our dreams. Just as Joseph is challenged by God to welcome the child into his home and heart despite the difficult circumstances, God challenges us to welcome his Christ into our everyday lives and allow the child to transform our hearts and homes in his peace and justice.
If you are ready to take up the Christmas challenge, then let me leave you with a few words as a special reminder to you:
“It is Christmas! It is the most wondrous feast – the birthday of the One who came to show us a God of love. How beautiful are the feet of those who walk the extra step across a room to greet someone with whom they have had differences. How beautiful are the feet of those who step beyond the material gifts and appreciate the heart of the giver. How beautiful are the feet of those who move about in the kitchen making the special foods and serving the guests who gather. How beautiful are the feet of those who not only go to church services but who also fully participate by greeting others joyfully, praying and singing heartily. How beautiful are the feet of those who walk into homeless shelters or places with little comfort to bring some of their own abundance.
Yes, how beautiful are all those feet who walk with the good news this day, with the intention of love in their hearts, for they are living the message of the One who came so long ago. The Christ of abundant love, born over two thousand years ago, lives on in us. As our feet take us near and far, let us continue to be the Christ to one another.
I close:
Divine Messenger,
We will carry the good news of your abundant and abiding love to all we meet and greet today, tomorrow, forever.” Amen