July/August 2017 – Summer’s here and the time is right…

Summer’s here and the time is right… And even if I’m not quite as ready for dancing in the streets to Martha and the Vandellas as I once-upon-a-time was, I still like to sing the song, retrofitting words to fit the current activity – whether walking on the beach – visiting and being visited – watching birds – catching fish – being in the garden – or working the usual work at a bit slower pace… Taking a little more time, most of all, for listening for God. Summer’s here and the time is right… And the time is also short. Before we know it we’ll be back in many of our usual routines – our younger generations a year further along in school or career – others of us a year further along in work or retirement. For many of us, time really does go by so very quickly… And slowing down and listening longer for the still small voice of God’s Spirit is the one thing I know… that really consistently helps to cool the heat on the hot days, warm our hearts on the chillier nights. And when, thanks be to God, I have been able to slow down, even a little, I always seem to find myself more grateful… This summer I’m especially thankful for some new and expanding ministries in our parish. Thankful for a new prayer group that’s begun meeting in Bourne. All of us who’ve participated so far have shared our feelings of being very blessed in our time together. We’re presently meeting on the last Wednesday of the month (10 a.m. in downstairs nursery room). (We may adjust this schedule; please keep an eye out for announcements.) Thanks very much to Pastor Sandra Smith for starting and coordinating this ministry. I’m very thankful also for all our Thrift Shop volunteers and those who work on our children’s clothing exchange ministry. And for all who contribute items for the homeless and the Bourne Food Pantry. Early in July we hosted a community Yard Sale in Bourne, which gave us a chance to meet more neighbors. All these ministries of hospitality and outreach help us communicate some of our vision for ministry in the wider community. Please keep all in your prayers. I am always thankful for our children and their families, and for all who are part of our ministries with younger people. Once again we had Children’s Sunday in Bourne in June, with young people reading scripture and singing special music. This year we were also blessed by parents and grandparents who chose a passage of scripture that has special meaning for them, read the passage, and spoke about what it means for them. Thanks also for all the children who sang again the next Sunday in Cataumet. Our bible group is studying Genesis, using a short book, Genesis For Everyone by John Goldingay as a study help. Please let me know if you would like to join us when we re-start in early September. (I will be ordering volume two and would like to place one order for all.) Our New Members Group will also re-start in September. Let me know if you would like to join. We will be saying good-bye soon to Brittany Lord, our Administrative Secretary in...

read more

June 2017 – Garden variety parables

Our garden was in the ground and growing much earlier this year than last. Too early for some seeds, which never made it up through cold ground. A little early for others, who took their  time…waiting till ground warmed… before finally poking up above surface. Just right for collards, chard, kale, arugula – I’ve just harvested our first cut of greens. Some cukes, squash and beans are up… Tomatoes are in the ground, looking ok. The garden’s looking pretty good today. Although… I still sometimes wonder if time spent in the garden is worth it. So many other things that should also be done… are also crying out for my attention… But there is something about working with the soil that helps me connect more deeply with the biblical stories. Our bible group is reading and discussing Genesis, where we’ve been reminded the Hebrew word adam – meaning human – comes from the word adamah – meaning humus, earth, ground, or land. And in the beginning our first God-given work was simply gardening… In the gospels Jesus often speaks in parables using images and metaphors from agriculture. And in a recent session of our Bourne and Cataumet Worship Committees we heard suggestions for a sermon series on “contemporary parables.”  Which I’m contemplating now while close to the ground amidst seeds and weeds of the garden… Our lectionary reading schedule has us spending extended time in Matthew’s gospel this year, and chapter 13 of Matthew is one of the bible’s longest extended series of parables. The first and longest is often called “the parable of the sower” (though it seems more about soil than sower). The next and second-longest is the so-called parable of “wheat among weeds.” Followed then by a parable about mustard seed, another about buying a field, yet-another about baking bread with flour, the fruit of the field… (There’s also one about jewelry from shellfish – and yes, one about fishing… But I’m trying my best to not think about these till another day.) And all these parables, Jesus says, are about the kingdom of heaven. Go and figure. As I watch weeds starting to grow like topsy in our garden, I do catch myself liking the parable of the wheat and weeds growing together, where the owner of the field tells workers not to pull weeds till harvest, lest good wheat be pulled up with the weeds. It’s nice to feel like I’ve got heavenly permission to sit back and leave it to the harvest crew to sort out… Though I’m soon reminded… A parable is seldom intended to be taken literally. (Would it even be a parable if it was?) Remembering also I have a tendency to sometimes confuse gospel hope with wishful thinking…And remembering now the book on parables I read last winter – The Parables of The Kingdom, by Robert Farrar Capon, who writes: “Jesus spoke in strange, bizarre, disturbing ways. He balked at almost no comparison, however irreverent or unrefined. Apparently he found nothing odd about holding up, as a mirror to God’s ways, a mixed bag of questionable characters: an unjust judge, a savage king, a tipsy slave owner, an unfair employer, and even a man who gave help only to bona-fide pests. Furthermore, Jesus not only spoke in parables, he...

read more

May 2017 – The Art and the Artist of Creation

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  And God said “Let there be light,” and there was light.  (Genesis 1:1-3, New International Version) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was an empty waste, with darkness over the face of the deep, and God’s breath sweeping over the face of the water. But God said “Light!” And light came into being. (Genesis 1:1-3, Genesis for Everyone Translation) God has created all creation. And from the beginning, God’s grand work of creation is translated and interpreted. Much as bible translators must always make choices in the words they use to translate the original Hebrew words of Genesis into English (or into any other language), so we all make choices as we interpret creation. What do we see, hear, feel, smell and sense most in creation, any given moment, any given day? How do we interpret what we see and hear and feel? (Is this a miserable rainy cold day? Or a cool but welcome gentle Spring rain?) Close friends and family members can often interpret the same day’s weather differently… Bible translators generally attempt either word-by-word translation (called formal translation) or thought-by-thought translation (known as dynamic translation). Both approaches have merit. Most contemporary translations seek a balance between these two basic approaches, but judgement calls are always necessary. For example, the original Hebrew language of Genesis lacks punctuation – so every comma, question mark, period or exclamation point is always a translator’s judgement call. Excellent translators working within the same basic formal and/or dynamic translation approach will often translate the same Hebrew words differently (as we can see in the two translations of the first three verses of Genesis above). And most bible translators are comfortable using more than one good translation of the bible. And leaving aside for now consideration of scientific study of creation… Except to say science is a gift from God and science is a necessary part of life in this age and I can even picture God as the original Scientist of creation… But when I think of God and creation, I think mostly of God the Artist. God the Performance Artist, who sings forth creation, as vividly imagined by CS Lewis in his Narnia Chronicles. God, the Visual Artist, who sketches, paints, draws, and sculpts creation, day by day, aeon by aeon… Probably I’m thinking of God as Artist lately especially because our family visited Boston’s Museum of Fine Art last week. We saw a special exhibit of the work of the French artist Henri Matisse, famous for his creative mastery of color and form, well-known also for his working with  every day items – a vase, a pot, a pitcher, a bowl, a chair. Matisse would draw or paint these items surrounding a person or a view of nature seen through a window – using his collection of well-loved items to frame, reveal, or draw attention to a person or some aspect of a person or persons… Other times, humans appear to be more like the background, with these familiar objects of life as the foreground. Either way, Matisse...

read more

April 2017 – What makes Jesus weep? (What makes him smile?)

Jesus weeps with his close friends Mary and Martha of Bethany, as they weep over the death of their brother Lazarus. And here in one of the bible’s shortest verses – Jesus wept (John 11:35) we have one of the bible’s larger mysteries. The death and resurrection of Lazarus looks a lot like a rehearsal for Jesus’ own death and resurrection.  And Jesus knows he will raise Lazarus from the dead. Just as he knows he himself will rise from the dead. Why then, is he weeping? Most likely for much the same mix of reasons for which he weeps also in Luke’s account of his entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-42), where Jesus weeps because of our age-old human habit of not recognizing what makes for peace. And the real mystery, perhaps, is not so much in why Jesus weeps, but in why we don’t weep more with him. As Pope Francis has said, “Jesus is weeping today, too, because we have preferred the path of war, the path of hatred, the path of enmity…” Francis gets the importance of Jesus’ weeping. As Catholic News Service reports: Pope Francis encourages people to pray for “the grace of tears” when pleading to God to help others, when recognizing their own sinfulness, when contemplating the greatness of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and when experiencing God’s mercy. Sometimes, he has said, tears are the only true response to the question of why the innocent suffer. In January 2015, the pope listened to a 14-year-old boy in Manila describe life on the streets as a struggle to find food, to fight the temptation of sniffing glue and to avoid adults looking for the young to exploit and abuse. A 12-year-old girl, rescued from the streets by the same foundation that helped the boy, covered her face with her hand as she wept in front of the pope. But she managed to ask him, “Why did God let this happen to us?” Pope Francis said a real answer was impossible, but the question itself was important and the tears that accompanied the question were even more eloquent than the words. “Certain realities of life,” he said, “are seen only with eyes that are cleansed by tears.” For people who are safe, comfortable and loved, he said, learning how to weep for others is part of following Jesus, who wept at the death of Lazarus and was moved with compassion at the suffering of countless others…. Still today many Mary’s and Martha’s are weeping for many, many lost brothers and sisters. Still today most of the world lacks knowledge of what makes for peace. And weeping is still one of our most basic and most often overlooked spiritual practices… *** Yet just as surely as Jesus weeps, so surely I believe he also smiles. I picture Jesus smiling whenever his people get it right. Many times, I’m pretty sure, I catch glimpses of Jesus smiling as he watches his people in worship, in prayer, in loving service… I picture Jesus smiling every Sunday in our worship, Sunday School, and after-worship-coffee-hour times, as we share joys and sorrows, hopes and needs… I’m sure Jesus is smiling even in some of even our most difficult and tedious moments, whenever we pause to consider “what would Jesus...

read more

March 2017 – Walking the way to Easter

Lent is just beginning as I write. Last night we received ashes on our brows in the shape of a cross. This morning I’m remembering a worship service from some years ago, when I served a pair of Methodist churches close to the Canadian border in Northeastern New York – our churches, a neighbor Methodist church, two nearby Catholic churches – together for a Sunday afternoon worship service just before Lent. We listened to scripture, prayed, sang together, making ready for Lent; ending on a somber note, singing, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross… Then as we stood for the benediction, we heard the sound of a solo violin, playing from high on the church balcony – Christ our Lord is Risen Today… Reminding us Lent is a journey that leads to the cross… And just as surely to the resurrection… Lent begins with repentance from sin. Repentance means literally turning. Turning from sin – turning to God. Sin means anything that hurts our relationship with God or people made in the image of God. In the opening chapters of the bible we’re told we are dust – and to dust we shall return.  All of us are mortal. Our bodies are made up of earthy material that will return to earth. The first chapters of the bible also tell us we are all made in the image of God. Called and equipped to live as beloved children of God. And God invites the whole world to be reconciled to God through Christ – and through us, frail creatures of dust – whom God nonetheless calls to be ambassadors for Christ, offering Christ’s reconciliation to the world… In Lent we are invited to recognize ourselves as both frail human creatures of dust and ashes  – and as beloved children of God, made in the image of God, renewed in God’s image through Jesus Christ. We are dust and ashes. And we bear the image and likeness of God. And given this double-identity, we’re called to repent not only of obvious wrong-doing – but also to repent of ways in which we don’t live up to our full potential as Christ-followers – people called by Jesus to bring the good news of his reconciling grace and peace to all this world which God so loves… Together we are the body of Christ, called to embody the life of Christ in the world. Thus we’re called to repent not only of our personal sins, but also the sins of the world we live in, the sins of the wider church of which we’re an integral part. In Lent we recall ways in which our relationship with God and neighbor needs repair. Together we make time for prayer, for study of God’s word, for worship – time for abstaining from all that distracts us from God. Time for listening for God. Time, above all, for remembering and rediscovering the breadth and depth of God’s love – love divine, all loves excelling. May the love of God in Jesus Christ fill our Lent with the promise of Easter… May God’s grace,  peace, joy, and love bless and keep you always…. Pastor Tim...

read more

January/February 2017 – Opening The Book

Christian writer Kathleeen Norris tells “the scariest story I know about the bible,” in her book, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. Norris recalls a conversation she and her husband once had in a local steak house with one of their South Dakota neighbors, a grandson of “dirt-poor immigrants” who now owned several thousand acres and bought new cars for his family every year; a man who had now begun treatment for a probably terminal cancer. That night this man of few words who usually spoke about business when he did speak, began telling about receiving a wedding gift, many years before, from his devout grandfather. Norris says: His wedding present to Arlo and his bride had been a bible, which he admitted he admired mostly because it was an expensive gift, bound in white leather, with their names and the date of their wedding set in gold lettering on the cover. “I left it in its box and it ended up in our bedroom closet,” Arlo told us. “But,” he said, “for months afterward, every time we saw grandpa he would ask me how I liked that bible. The wife had written him a thank you note, and we’d thanked him in person, but somehow he couldn’t let it lie, he’d always keep asking about it.” Finally, Arlo grew curious as to why the old man kept after him. “Well,” he said, “the joke was on me. I finally took that Bible out of the closet and found that granddad had placed a twenty-dollar bill at the beginning of the Book of Genesis, and at the beginning of every book … over thirteen hundred dollars in all. And he knew I’d never find it.” *** I knew little about how to practice Christian faith when I first began attending church, in my early twenties. But I had heard the bible is The Book for Christians. So I started reading… It didn’t take long to figure out the bible is a book made up of many shorter books, booklets, gospels, and letters, in all, 66 books-within-The-Book in Protestant bibles (more in Catholic and Orthodox bibles), written by many different authors over a range of times. And it almost goes without saying that I found some of the bible much easier to read than other parts. Some of what I read in the bible made sense immediately. Other parts began to make sense with prayer and more thought. Still other parts made little sense even after quite a bit of prayer and pondering. But I don’t usually mind pondering… And I was aware Christians have seldom if ever been entirely all of one-mind as to what the bible means… So I read the parts I liked often, the other parts less often… A few parts not at all… Till one day, reading the liner notes of Duke Ellington’s first Sacred Music Concert record, where Duke wrote saying he ‘began to understand the bible a little, after reading it cover to cover, three times.’ Equal parts shamed and inspired by Duke, I resolved to read through the bible three times – reading three or four chapters a day of the Old Testament along with daily readings of a few psalms, and a chapter each of the New Testament gospels and letters....

read more