Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Great Thanksgiving

So given that we are at the Church of the Holy Communion and it is Thanksgiving, I thought this would be a proper topic.  Thanksgiving.
Did you know that the two go hand in hand?  Communion and thanksgiving...
Stay with me for a minute as we take a brief look at the history of Episcopal Church.  As many know, we broke apart from the Catholic Church, most famously because King Henry VIII wanted a divorce (annulment) .  However, King Henry actually challenged the authority of Rome for most of his rule.  Anyway, so we split.
We also have a connection to the Protestant Church.  If there is any question about it, look at the official title given to members of the church. 
Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.  
First, WOW! Second, did you see the word Protestant in there?
In the Episcopal Church, tradition plays a very important role in our theology.  It was one of the keys to our foundation and is one of the "legs" of the Three-Legged Stool as decribed by Richard Hooker.
How do we honor our heritage and traditions in our church every Sunday?  
Well, our service is spit into two main parts.  The first half where we honor our Protestant background.  During this part of the service we have the readings, the Gospel, the Sermon...we focus on the Word of God.  Which is largely the focus of the Protestant Church.  
The second half of the service is to honor our Catholic background and our focus on the Eucharist.
It is this second part that I want to concentrate on for now.  The Eucharist.  It is during the Eucharist that we all come together, at the Lord's table and share Communion.  We do this every Sunday.  
Earlier, I asked if you knew how Communion and Thanksgiving go hand in hand?
The definition of Eucharist is actually means thanksgiving!  That is why when we start the Eucharist it says The Great Thanksgiving!  Why?  I am glad you asked!
We have been blessed with so many gifts!  We have so much to be thankful for!  The Eucharist reminds us that the central act of the service is the giving of thanks to God for all of God's gifts to us!  
Then to show you how much we like to honor the traditions of the church, there is a dialogue between the priest and congregation that comes from the Jewish tradition!  
Whoa! So you're saying that in one normal service, we honor our Protestant background, Catholic background, Jewish heritage, and give thanks to God!?!  Crazy right.
This Thanksgiving, the only challenge is to truly give thanks.  We are all so blessed, so be thankful.
Lift up your hearts! We lift them up the the Lord!  Let us give thanks to the Lord or God.  It is right to give God thanks and praise.
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. 


Every Wednesday I am constantly amazed by the depth of questions and the yearning to learn more when we gather for WOW.  It is a constant reminder for me why I fell in love with studying and learning about the subject of religion and theology. 
 It was about a year ago that I was getting ready to go drive to Atlanta for a youth workers conference.  I was not looking forward to the long drive all by myself.  Someone recommended to listen to an audio book or podcasts, it would make the trip go by quicker.  I ended up listening to a sermon given by Marcus Borg at the Calvary Lenten Preaching Series a few years ago.  Well this lead to about 6 straight hours of sermons, all of which were amazing.  
This past Wednesday, we looked at the Gospel text from look about the Crucifixion (Luke 23:32-43).
If you aren't rushing to get your Bible or Googling that text right now, I will give you a brief paraphrasing of what happens.  So Jesus is on the cross, the people are saying, Come on, if you really are the Sonf of God, save yourself!  One of the two criminals next to Jesus, says, Yea, and if you save yourself, save us too!  The second criminal is like, Naw, leave him alone, he is innocent.  We are guilty.  Jesus then says, " Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."  And they skip happily through the pearly gates hand in hand...something like that. (I still recommend that you read the actual scripture.
So, on my drive to Atlanta, I listened to a sermon by The Rev. Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood.  And I will tell you one thing, he was not happy about this scripture.  Really!?  This criminal!  This thief! After all this time of robbing people, and who knows what else, he has been caught.  He is being punished for his crime.  Finally, justice!  But this guy, Jesus, takes him.  Hand in hand and walks with him through the pearly gates...Oh come on!  the Rev. goes on and on about his anger towards this single act.  It is not fair, he can live his whole life perfectly and still not get that kind of treatment.  It just wasn't fair.  So, he wants answers!  Where do you go for answers?  You pretend to visit the people of the Old Testament to get their views and thoughts on this act, naturally.  
So The Rev. Youngblood goes back in time to talk to Abraham.  (from here on out, he refers to himself simple as Youngblood, so I will do the same)  So, Youngblood thinks that everyone is going to be equally frustrated with what happened.  Abraham, lets him down.  Really, Youngblood?  Look at my life, i was by no means perfect.  I could be considered a screw up.  But I had faith.
Dissappointed, he moves on.  Moses, ha, that upsets you? Look at me.  I helped the enslavement of my own people for the longest time.  I stutter.  Orphaned.  I was forgiven.
So, as Jesus was on the cross, dying.  He forgave the man who was dying next to him. 
This weeks challenge...forgiveness.  Forgive others, forgive yourself.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Silence is Golden

I don't know about you, but I sure do feel incredibly busy these days!  I am sure you can relate.  Exams, homework, work, the holidays are coming!  When those approach, there is not escaping the anxiety you will feel.  How will I get this all done!? WORK WORK WORK WORK, right?  Have you heard that really goofy commercial on the radio about the guy who is a busy bee?  He is always working and always telling people, "No, I'm BUSY!"  If you haven't heard it, well it's this commercial about this guy who is always busy.  When someone talks to him he always responds, "I'm BUSY!" 

Ok, now that we are all on the same page, let's move on.  A lot of times I feel that this is the case in my life.  I am always busy and answering, "I can't, I'm BUSY!"  To everyone!  Can you meet on Tuesday?  Can't I'm busy.  Can you spare a minute to catch up with an old friend?  Sure, but be quick I'm busy.  Will you come home and have dinner with your family one night this week?  Sorry, busy.  Can you please help me?  Sorry, I am busy.  Can you pray for me?  Or are you too busy?  Can you pray for yourself?  Or is your schedule too full? 

How often do you finish your day, stop and sit down, clear your mind, and just sit there in silence for maybe 30 seconds before realizing something else you have to do?  How tired are you after just that 30 seconds.

Right now, let's change that.  Turn off the TV.  Find a quiet spot.  Turn your phone off.  Stop.  be still.  Take a moment of silence.  Relax.  Make it last a minimum of 5 minutes.  I dare you to shoot for 10. 

How do you feel? 

This week's challenge.  Slow down. 

Just Show Up....

Tuesday Greetings!  Hope all is well.  I want to start off by thanking every person who helped make Trunk or Treat possible.  So many people worked together to pull off such an amazing event.  We had around 160 people out there, around 30 cars beautifully decorated, and we gathered nearly 100 pounds of canned goods for the Memphis Food Bank!  So everyone, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back!

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to speak during the Parish Hall forum lead by the vestry about "Moving Forward."  For those of you who were there, who knew church could be so exciting, right!? 

Well, I wanted to take this chance to reiterate some of the things I mentioned and expand on a few concepts that we are really trying to focus on in our youth program. 

First off, I read a letter during my presentation, if you missed it or do not remember here it is. 

Perspective from the Back of the Church
by Eleanor Michael*

I was asked to write a little bit about St. James's "from the perspective of a parent of young children," but by using my quick, working-mom-style skim email reading technique, I first read the request as "from the perspective...of young children." I quickly realized my mistake, but after some consideration, have decided perhaps that the perspective of my two young children would be more interesting than mine.
To my boys, Nate (4) and Calvin (2), church is:
  • Friday night pizza and movies, and Sunday morning snuggles with Maddy and Priscilla;
  • making eyes at the ladies in the pews behind us, and eyeing the toys of the kids in the pews in front of us;
  • getting "snacks" at communion and dancing to the recessional;
  • the all-you-can-eat (before-a-parent-intervenes) Munchkin and lemonade buffet at coffee hour; and
  • discussing the intricacies of the latest Cars movie with [the Rev.] Molly Louden.
In a word (or two!), if asked, I think my kids would say that church is about food, and fun.
My husband and I share this sentiment to a certain extent, but to us, church isn't always quite as "fun" as snuggles and Munchkins and dancing. I regularly break a sweat trying to restrain my boys from hurling themselves into the pew behind us, while simultaneously wondering whether this will be the week that someone forgets to "listen to his body" and doesn't quite make it to the bathroom in time. I brace myself during communion (hoping Calvin doesn't feel the need to demand "MORE SNACKS!" from Julia again) and during the collection (praying he doesn't cling to his dollar and yell "MINE!" at the top of his ever-so-strong lungs, as he is wont to do). I am constantly wondering whether I have a dinosaur sticker stuck on my sweater in an inopportune location.
So if church is causing us so much weekly grief, why do we keep going back? Why not wait to become "churchgoing folk" until our kids are old enough to control their bowels, their tempers, and the volume of their voices?
To us, church is about a more sophisticated word (though related to "food" and "fun" in many ways!) that our kids do not yet know. To us, church is about community. Although our kids cannot yet articulate this word, they seem to understand the concept, in large part thanks to our time in the St. James's parish. It is about having a surrogate family when our extended families live far away. It is about having a place and a group of people to begin discussions about other big words, such as faith, love, respect, forgiveness, and social injustice. And of course, it is about pizza, chili, pancakes, brownies, and let us not forget, jambalaya!
To us, church cannot wait because learning to be part of a community cannot wait, and so we force our kids into anything-but-sweatpants week after week, and faithfully occupy our spot in the (easy-escape-route) back of the church, and feel thankful for our blessings, our church community, and our understanding pew neighbors. A few weeks ago the reading from the Holy Gospel seemed especially pertinent, when Jesus said to the twelve disciples:
"Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." - Mark 9:30 -37
Thank you to the entire St. James's community, which has welcomed us with open arms.

Now I want to share another story.  When i was in high school, I was asked to give a reflection during our Wednesday night worship group.  A rather large group at this time as around 30 youth and a handful of adults and parents (who were invited to attend our services whenever possible) gathered as I shared about what keeps me coming back.  Was it the events and games?  Was it my innate desire to do everything to glorify God?  Or was it simply a high schooler who wanted to spend time with his friends.  Who simply wanted to be apart of that group.


Another story, this past Happening, one youth shared a story about how he questions his faith.  So much so that he struggles to really know what it is that he believes in.  He found it hard to get plugged in to too many church like things, but Happening was something he would never miss.  He loved the atmosphere, the people.


As someone who had serious doubts about faith as a teen and someone who gave up on faith completely, I can speak to the power of this community.  I had given up on this thing known as religion.  But my friends went and that was my community, so I went, but didn't care.  I had given up on it.  But it did not give up on me.  No matter how much I didn't want to listen, this group, this atmosphere, this setting drew me back in.  Do you know how powerful something must be to take a teenager that doesn't care and to draw them in and make them feel special, important, involved...THAT is the power of this community.  That is what church and this youth group is about.  A support network, friends that will always be there for you, a place you can go to when you have lost all your faith, and still be accepted.


This letter hits the nail on the head.  We know its there, we know where we can find it...buuuut, its Sunday, that's one of the few days I can sleep in....But that means I should go to bed early on Saturday....But......but......but.....

As said on Sunday, in the wise words of teh Rev. Ollie Rencher guarantee, "Just show up." 

I guarantee that, especially for youth, if you just show up, you will find a new home in this community.  And that will stay with you for a lifetime.

This Sunday is baptism Sunday.  My challenge this week is to listen to the words as they are said.  Listen to the covenant you agree to be a part of as you say, "We will!" so proudly as we do in the Episcopal church.  I say read it, make sense of it, and think about what you are saying. 

If you don't mean it, don't say it.
If you say it, do it.