Letters Home, Proper 7 (June 25, 2017)

June 25, 2017 – Proper 7

Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)

Dear Friends,

Spring is the season of new beginnings. This is on full display all around us. Everywhere we look we are treated with signs of rebirth from the winter’s sleep and new growth. What is true in nature is also true for the human family. Spring and early summer are the seasons of graduations, weddings and all sorts of new endeavors. I am certain most of us have known our own spring new beginnings as well.

The season of my graduation from high school, more than five decades ago, was filled with one solitary ambition. I wanted to make something of myself. Of course, at 18, I had no idea of what that meant or how to go about it. In the end I did what seemed natural at that time in our nation’s history; I enlisted in the service. That was the first of a lifetime series of choices, all of which I imagined were steps along the way toward my “making something” of myself.

As choices and steps led to subsequent choices and steps, a truth began to become clear to me. That was that at the intersection between my choices and actions, those of others around me, and of the broader society, combine in ways that were often unpredictable and beyond my personal control. I realized that all of us are caught up in the fabric of folks doing their best, trying to make something of their lives. What takes place when these lives come together follows its own direction. The collective dynamic seems to have a will of its own. In other words, my life’s one plus one did not always equal two. It frequently amounted to more or less than that.

As the last five decades have passed I have become convinced that the project of “making something” of myself is hard work. Sometimes it has seemed too much for one person to tackle. Many years ago I realized that instead of trying to be my own “maker,” I would benefit from someone’s help. I am convinced there is good news here for all of us as we continue trying our best.

I hope you have noticed that I cherish the Collects (collective prayer) that are prayed each week by many of the churches of the Christian faith. Most of these prayers have very long histories. All of them have been smoothed by time and use to express great spiritual truths in very few words. This coming Sunday’s prayer is no exception.

We begin that prayer with these words, “O Lord, make me, …” I’m certain that my first reaction to these opening words is no different from many of your. A feeling of visceral resistance and rebellion rises quickly within me. My heart wants to shout “you can’t make me!” Most of us would rather make our own decisions even if they are wrong. At least the consequences would be all ours. When we step back from those first words, and pray a little farther, we discover we have reacted to a meaning that is not contained in the prayer.

When the church prays, “O Lord, make me, …” the community of faith is referring to God’s act of ongoing creation, not an act of coercion. This prayer acknowledges that the initiative in “making us” is first and foremost in the hands of the Master Maker, God. Our prayer asks God to continue to shape our hearts in such a way that they love and long for the best, truest, and most glorious of possibilities in life. The most marvelous of which is to have a love and reverence for God’s Holy Name. These become the compass needle of all our hearts desire.

We are partners with God in the shaping of our hearts, and lives. Within this partnership we can be emboldened, knowing that God’s strength and wisdom are walking with us as we find our way. With God by our side we can reach for our dreams, build our lives, and to try to make the world a little better place than it was when we came into it. Beyond that we are called to trust The Creator to watch over and guide the shaping of the entire human family.

These are sure signs of a new spring and new life.

Faithfully,

Fr. Dave

Proper 6; Sunday closest to June 16

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 230)

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Letters Home (Proper 6, June 18 2017)

June 18, 2017 – Proper 6
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)

Dear Friends

I am convinced that faith is one of the most powerful forces in God’s creation. There are two types of faith: one is mine, the other is yours. In my experience, when the two are combined the sum total is far greater than its individual parts. Let me give an example.

I was not a good student in grade school or high school. I got by without opening a book. I listened in class and took exams. My grades barely qualified me for graduation. Looking back on those years I now realize I was bored and looking for something interesting and challenging. A couple decades later I came to the point in my life that I was no longer able to ignore the sense of call to ordained ministry that was tugging at my heart. There was one significant hurdle I would have to face. That was my bishop’s requirement that I earn a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s of Divinity from a recognized seminary. Looking back on my earlier years in school I was convinced that I did not have what it took to be successful in an academic environment. That was when someone else’s faith came into play.

I am blessed to be married to someone who has more faith in me than I do myself. She assured me that her experience of me convinced her that I could earn these degrees and complete what looked like a very long journey toward the call before us. I took a big gulp, tried to put my doubts behind me, and stepped out in her faith, not mine. This was 31 years ago. Those years have been blessed largely because I trusted my wife’s faith in me.

There is something amazing about another’s faith in us. Those of us who have experienced this blessing through a parent, spouse, child, or friend know what I am referring to. With their belief in us, we are enabled to dare to dream and attempt that which we normally would never attempt. We still have to do the work, but it seems possible when we are in it with another’s support. I pray that my spouse, children, and friends know that I believe in them as well.

Unfortunately there are those among us who have never known this type of love and faith from others. This may have been their life story. Or it may only seem to be true at the moment. Regardless how long this situation may have existed, it can be debilitating. We can only go so far in life relying on our own strengths and self assurance. At some point all of us need a source of strength beyond ourselves. Without this resource we can find ourselves stymied, bitter, and lost. This may explain a great deal about the hopelessness we find in so many places today.

This coming Sunday the community of faith will lift in prayer an empowering piece of news. That is that even if no one else believes in us, our Heavenly Father does. The proof of this is found on many levels. The first is that scripture assures us that God knew us fully even as we were in our mother’s womb. God knew who we were, who we would become, and knows the amazing person we can be. Our Lord Jesus assures us that despite all that may or may not have happened in our lives, God loves each and every one of us – still. And maybe most importantly – God believes in you so fully that God sent Jesus for you, to enable you to become your best self as seen through God’s eyes.

We make our prayer, “Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love.” Steadfast, because God’s faith and love for each of us survives the test of time and circumstance. Relying on these twin blessings, we truly can dare to boldly strive for what God wills for all of us: justice and compassion.

Faithfully,
Fr. Dave

Proper 6; Sunday closest to June 16

“Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.” Amen. (BCP 230)

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Trinity Sunday, (06-11-2017)

June 11, 2017 – Trinity Sunday

Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)

Dear Friends

There is a place of still waters I like to go to. I found it on the banks of the Deschutes River in Oregon when I was about 10 or twelve. My family was camping beside the river on the Warm Springs Reservation. That stretch of the river was known for its trout fishing. Dad and I loved fishing, but he was a fanatic. Fishing for my father was primarily about the fish, and a close second was the exercise of hiking as many miles along a river as possible. After he caught one trout he was off to the next likely location. I am sure I exaggerate, but at my age of 10 it seemed like this.

On this particular day it felt as if we had cast and hiked for miles. Dad’s creel contained the proof. Then we came upon a cut in the bank with a small eddy. It was shaded by the alders and brush that grow along the river’s edge. The water was crystal clear. The rocks and sand below were plainly visible. Now and again a bit of twig or an occasional bug floated by. And best of all there were several trout, nose to the current, idling in the backwater enjoying the shade. When my father was ready to move on I asked permission to stay behind. He agreed and would meet me on his way back.

Once Dad had moved on I sat and watched the water, May flies, trout, and the filtered sunlight glint on the water. I also listened. Once the silence settled into that space it began to settle into me. In the silence I experienced something profound. I realized I was not separate from what was there; I was a part of that scene. Then my heart was overcome with the sense that the little grotto was filled with the presence of God. Looking back on this from the vantage point of nearly 70 years of life, it seems a little strange for a 10 year old boy to think all of this. But that is my point. These thoughts were as yet unformed. They were only born sitting beside the waters of the Deschutes River.

I have never physically been back to that natural sanctuary, but I go there almost weekly – in my heart. For almost sixty years my heart has re-experienced, delved ever more deeply, and tried to capture the experience and what it means in words. I’ve come to realize that no matter which decade of life I may be in, the words I chose to frame what was actually a mystery are only provisional. The struggle to find these words helps me to reconnect with the inexplicable.

This coming Sunday is known as Trinity Sunday. This is a different sort of Sunday from all the other Sundays of the Christian year. The others focus on the record of mighty works and wonders of God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. On Trinity Sunday we try to look directly at God, thru the lens of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Over the years my focus has moved from the doctrine and now explore the human experience of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Speaking of Jesus in the way the first disciples came to speak was not easy for them. They experienced Him in a way that challenged their preconceived notions of human and divine. Trying to express their experience in words stretched their vocabulary and their use of it. Trinitarian language evolved as they struggled with that experience of Jesus. Their hearts told them He was more than human and in some way inextricably enmeshed in God’s being.

By the beginning of the 5th century this experience of God and Jesus had been cast in the words of the historical creeds. It may be best to understand these creeds as icons, something we use to see thru to a greater reality. Our creeds are signposts that point us to a God who mystifies and captivates us all at the same time. When they have done their job we find our way to our own shaded and holy grotto in which we can sit in the presence of the Divine.

Trinity Sunday is not about fully understanding the God behind all of creation. It is about acknowledging the mystery of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; one God. That acknowledgement is joy itself.

Faithfully,

Fr. Dave

First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 228)

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Pentecost Sunday, (06-04-2017)

June 4, 2017 – Pentecost Sunday

Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)

Dear Friends

This winter my wife and I spent several weeks visiting the area around the mouth of the Columbia river in Oregon and Washington states. The area reminded us of home in Southeast Alaska. There were three notable exceptions. First, it was warmer than at home. Second, it was snow and ice free. And finally, one of the most attractive differences was the 4.1 mile long Astoria-Megler Bridge that crosses the mighty Columbia.

Before the bridge was constructed, Astoria and Megler were connected by a ferry system. The construction of this link between Oregon and Washington completed the construction of Highway 101. That long, narrow, two lane way has changed the systems of commerce, employment, and social fabric at both ends.

Last January as we drove over that steel span we wondered why it had taken us so long to make this journey. In fact the weather was blowing up a gale and it was a relief to get to the other end. We had grown up in Oregon and had driven to the coast many times. I do remember admiring the bridge from the Astoria end. I had watched its construction from my uncle’s home on the bluff above. And I had been fascinated by the changes the bridge promised. The project was completed in 1966, 14 years before we moved to Alaska. There had been plenty of time and opportunity to make this crossing. But my wife and I had never set tire to the pavement to follow were it would lead. More than fifty years after the completion of that highway, we took the plunge.

There are many highways and byways available to us in life. Most have always been available, unrecognized, and seldom taken. But occasionally a few announce their presence to us with such power and urgency that we can not ignore them. These, we have to respond to in one way or another. Taking them into our lives requires courage, trust, and a decision to open our hearts, followed by our action of setting foot on the path they have opened to us.

This Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate one such ‘high-way.” Most of us know the story. The disciples were hiding out in the upper room, waiting for something. Jesus had instructed them to stay put. He said a gift was heading their way. The gift was the Spirit of God. They had no inkling of the power of what was coming. When the gift arrived the disciples could only report what it was like – not what is was.  It began like hearing a gale force wind miles off but approaching rapidly. As quickly as they heard the sound, the room they were in seemed to pressurize and explode with The Spirit. It was like the air was filled with tongues of fire as they breathed it in. The account in the Book of Acts does not record the few seconds after the pressure dissipated and before the disciples stepped outdoors to address the crowd that had gathered at the sound. In that briefest of moments, the hearts of those in that room made the decision to trust the experience and let it into their lives. That gave Peter the power to speak to the crowd as he did.

As the years and eons have passed, many of the followers of Jesus find it increasingly more difficult to open themselves to such an experience. In our time this may be because we know several who have, some of whom seem to have been changed in ways we don’t want to be changed. Few of us want to be the odd-person-out for their kooky Jesus notions in our increasingly anti-religious culture. Yet here we are once again at Pentecost Sunday. Once again we are reminded that the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is foundational to the experience of being a follower of Jesus.

Pentecost is one of those gateways to a new way that keeps returning year after year. This is one “High-way” we need to pay attention to. If the coming of the Holy Spirit truly is a gift from God, and it only seems awkward to us, maybe we need to re-examine our preconceived notions that keep it from being received as a gift. Maybe, day by day, as we open ourselves more fully to the Spirit of that Upper Room, we will find God changing our lives in ways that surprise and delight us.

Faithfully,

Fr. Dave

The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 227)

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Easter, 7th Sunday of, (05-28-2017)

May 28, 2017 – Easter, 7th Sunday of
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)

Dear Friends

Kermit the Frog was known to say “It’s hard being green.” Be that as it may. I think most of us reading these words will agree that “it’s hard being human.” One of the main reasons for this difficulty is that we live our lives aware of our potential; our hearts live somewhere between what is today and what could be tomorrow. Often we end up having to accept a present that falls far short of the “could be” of our hearts. I am certain that I am not the only person who rises in the morning believing I will live up to what my heart tells me is true. I am also certain that I am not the only one who lies down at night recognizing that once again the dream of my best person was not fulfilled today.

There are many places in our lives where this tension plays out. These arenas are our careers, friendships, marriage, and parenting. As a parent, I am mindful of the tension between the role I play in my children’s lives, and the person I know myself to be. I can well remember how my parents seemed larger than life to me as a child. They seemed to know everything. Their skills were unlimited as far as I could tell. They were the authority, the deciders-in-chief, my examples, role models, and who I wanted to grow up to be. I suppose it is only natural for a child to feel this way. After all, at a young age, who else do they have to look to.

I remembered learning that my parents were human, with human frailties, just like me. I did not want to be anything close to a hero to our children. I knew how far heroes can fall. This is why, when our children entered their teen years I took each one aside to talk. I suggested that among all the life tasks ahead of them, one was very important. That was to begin to look at their parents’ lives with a clear eye. It was time to observe the qualities they admired and wanted to incorporate into their own lives. The flip side was also vital. Becoming aware of what they wanted to avoid in their parents’ lives was just as important. My hope was that by being open eyed they would have a chance of making their own mistakes, not ours. They might as well be original.

Life has a way of proving that we are not always the persons we long to be. The children of Adam and Eve may be the only species that is so deeply aware of its own brokenness and potentialities. We can be heroes or fail those we love most in the blink of an eye. If I remember rightly, this is very close to the classic definition of a tragedy. Don’t you wish someone would rewrite the script?

Thursday, May 25th, is the Feast of the Ascension. This Feast occurs 40 days after Easter every year. It is the day on which Christians remember Jesus being taken bodily from this sphere of existence into the heavenly sphere. Tradition tells us this took place on Mt. Olivette as the original disciples looked on. This celebration is only partially about Jesus, and just as much about us.

One of the things that touches me the most about the Ascension is this. In drawing the incarnate Lord Jesus to Himself, God has taken our own flesh and blood to Himself. The Christian faith proclaims that Jesus now stands beside the throne of God. In Jesus, our flesh, bone of our bone, stands beside God in heaven. That human flesh has taken such an exalted place changes everything. Not only has Jesus been exalted to a high position, so has the human family. Because of this the dream of becoming the individual our heart tells us we can be, is now a true possibility.

Poor Kermit. It was always hard being green. But now, in Christ Jesus, it has become a little easier being human.

Faithfully,
Fr. Dave

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Sunday after Ascension Day.
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.. (BCP 226)

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Easter, 6th Sunday after, (05-21-2017)

May 21, 2017 – Easter, 6th Sunday of
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)

Dear Friends

Lately I have been reflecting on Easters of my childhood. Even though Christmas was my favorite religious holiday, I do remember that Easter was always a fun time for my family. We would rise early that morning. Then we were off to church. Afterward we would go out for breakfast. In the afternoon the family gathered at my grandparent’s farm.

The Easters I remember most were the ones where we all gathered around large wooden tables on the lawn, enjoying the early spring weather. These were large gatherings of aunts and uncles, cousins, and my grandmother’s sister’s husband. Grandma’s sister had already passed away. But all of her side of the clan would be there, too. At that age Easter vaguely meant something about bunnies and colored eggs. But most of all I remember those gatherings of family — many generations deep — around the tables. I remember the love and belonging of those feasts.

At those picnic tables and other tables like them I learned the stories of my family. I also learned how to grow to be an adult, and how to long to be the best person I could be. All of this took place within a circle of shared family love. Without that love, I would not have known how to accept the gifts that had been offered to me at those tables.

Years have gone by, and all that is left of those gathered at our tables is a handful of family members. We all know the story of being scattered from the table of love and belonging. This takes place as time goes by and as members of our family and friends die or wander away. It also happens when our own eyes become filled with images and dreams that draw us from the relationships that have nurtured our lives. Most of us spend our lives looking for another community, another table to replace the one we feel we have lost.

There are many circles of relationship within which we live. These include the circle of our family, marriage – the circle of two, circles of friends, and of our shared faith. All of these share one thing in common. That is that there are many blessings to be found within those circles. There is a second truth that these circles share that is a little more difficult to apprehend: simply showing up is not enough. At some point the relationship asks us to enter it fully, not just with presence – but also with heart.

There is a circularity to loving and receiving the fullness of love’s blessings. The fullness of what it meant to gather with my family around those wooden tables on the lawn was open to me because we were bound by love. Back then I loved as a child, with an open heart, ready to receive what was offered by my family. Maybe this is why we often read these words of Jesus as part of a marriage ceremony, “Unless you become like a child, you will never enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 18:3) I understand these words not as restrictive, but as an invitation to the fullest experience of the relationship Jesus came to offer his friends. These words can be applied to the relationship of husband and wife, parent and child, friend and friend. In order to enjoy the full blessing of those relationships we need to open our heart. That act opens us to everything the other longs to give, and to what you discover together from that point on.

Easter is about bringing those who have been scattered back together. This gathering will not be to the table in the upper room, or the wooden tables on my grandparent’s lawn. It will be the table of the banquet of life, in full relationship with God, Jesus Christ and each other. The wonderful thing about the Easter feast is that the banquet of an Easter life begins whenever we open our hearts to attend. That is why we, the church, will pray the prayer below this Sunday.

Faithfully,
Fr. Dave

Sixth Sunday of Easter
O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  (BCP 22

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Easter, 5th Sunday of, (05-14-2017)

May 14, 2017 – Easter, 5th Sunday of
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)

Dear Friends,

I have a friend who is so close to my heart that he feels as if he were my brother. Since my younger brother passed away it is good to find friends this close. Like any family member, being friend and brother to this man includes its share of joy and pain. In order to make this letter a little easier to write I will call him Samuel.

Sam and I share a great deal in common. Both of us spent a good portion of our young adult years in the construction industry. Both of us experienced the ups and downs, hard times and economic uncertainties of that life. At one moment life was prosperous. The next it was hand to mouth. Both of us also experienced our fair share of brokenness in our lives and that of our families. What we did not share was being absolutely lost in the depths of an addiction.

There have been times when Samuel was a prince of a man. There were also moments when those around him experienced him as the absolute opposite. During all these changeable times I wished that I could help him or make some kind of difference in his lot in life. As it has turned out, I could not. I do not know where my friend is now. I pray that he is alive and that through some miracle he is finding his way toward health.

I have much to thank Samuel for. First of all, for the person he can be. He is often the most generous person I have ever met. He would literally give you the shirt off his own back. In the good moments you could not ask for a better friend. Second, I thank him for opening my eyes to the depths of a human experience I knew very little about. This gift of an expanded empathy has helped me reach out to many others in my life. I thank God for Sam’s friendship.

Each of our relationships open to us new truths, ways, and horizons. In fact, the new paths opened to us through our relationships are often more powerful than any opened to us through other means, including education. We choose not to take some of these paths for obvious reasons. Others are ways of being that resonate with that part of our soul that longs to find truth, meaning and purpose. When we encounter someone whose person and life stimulate this part of our soul, it is only natural for us to draw near.

In this Sunday’s Gospel passage we hear Jesus say, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” For many, these words can be puzzling. That is especially true for people who look to maps and GPS’s for directions, and to the sciences for truths. But to those who walked the dusty roads of Palestine with Jesus 2,000 years ago, His words made perfect sense. In this reading we are reminded that for the followers of Jesus, the way, truth and life is a person; nothing more, nor less. It was when they were in relationship with Jesus, watching Him in action, listening to His teaching, and living in His spirit that they felt wholeness become available to them. These are the gifts Jesus gave His friends.

This Sunday’s collect proclaims a related truth. This truth may seem as puzzling as Jesus’ words about way, truth, and life. This truth is that eternal life is not a place, or something contained within ourselves; it is an eternal relationship. Knowing God, dwelling in Him is everlasting life. In the universe of that bond, all of God’s blessings are opened to us. The most profound blessing is simply dwelling in God’s embracing presence. It is in this circle of connection that we will meet all who have gone before, and be reunited with those we love and have lost. This circle is the abode of what Paul refers to as a great cloud of witnesses. Jesus’ friends have found Him to be the doorway to this communion. Naturally they drew near.

Faithfully,
Fr. Dave

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 225)

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