Archive for the ‘St. Paul’s Church in Troy, NY’ Category

2017 Easter Sermon

April 17, 2017

In the Name of the Father . . .

Christians all over the world gather today to celebrate and proclaim our oldest credal statement: Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen Indeed!

This Easter greeting is standard in the Eastern Orthodox churches and often accompanied by three kisses on the cheek. I started out Roman Catholic and as a kid in Chicago I don’t remember the Easter greeting. I remember Ash Wednesday, fasting in Lent, giving up something for Lent, and Easter baskets. That’s about all I remember about Easter from my childhood.

When I joined the Episcopal Church I had to learn the Easter Greeting. There was that awkward moment when a church lady said, “Christ is Risen!,” and then gave me that church lady look. Then she fed me my line, “The Lord is Risen Indeed!” and I repeated it back to her, and she looked at me like she was very disappointed in me.

It is hard to get the Easter message right. It is not just a period of ashes and fasting followed by an Easter Egg Hunt. It’s not just Palm Sunday followed by Easter Sunday and remembering the right words to say when someone challenges you with, “Christ is Risen!”

Another wrong move was made by a large food conglomerate last week in England. Now this is the United Kingdom and the home of the Church of England, the CofE, where we Anglicans started. Anyway, Tesco, which is a big company. It’s sort of like Walmart, Cosco, Hannaford, and Stewarts all in one company. They have all those kinds of stores. It was a week where Pepsi, Sean Spicer, and United Airlines had their troubles here in the US. But, over in the UK there was Tesco putting out an advertisement that said, “Great offers on beer and cider. Good Friday just got better.”

Good Friday just got better because Tesco has a sale on beer and cider. Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified on Good Friday! Tesco tried to apologize and say they didn’t mean to offend anybody.

Somebody wrote on Twitter, “like it or not the Easter is also a secular holiday as well as a religious one. Most are traveling to families rather than to church.”

So, I have described something of the situation we are in now. There are many people who only have a connection to Good Friday and Easter as secular holidays. There are people who have a connection to Easter through the traditions and customs of their own church, but they have no idea how to share the Easter story effectively with non-Christians. And I’ve run into a few people in the Episcopal Church who aren’t very helpful to Christians who come from other kinds of churches.

My Faith was deepened when I began to go to Holy Week services. I greatly recommend this. The three church services leading up to Easter are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Easter Vigil. The services are really one connected service. The Deacon does not give a dismissal at the Thursday night service or the Good Friday service. We all leave in silence. All three services are called the Easter Triduum.

On Thursday night the emphasis is on the Foot-washing, the first Lord’s Supper, and the betrayal by Judas. On Thursday night Jesus gave the new commandment that the disciples should love each other. Jesus showed the kind of love he had in mind when he washed the feet of his disciples.

Late on Thursday night, and into Good Friday, Jesus was arrested and put on trial. The disciples abandoned Jesus. Then he was sent back and forth between King Herod and Pontius Pilate. Finally, He was crucified as a sacrificial scapegoat. On Good Friday we see how the powers of this world attempt to restore order by finding someone to blame.

I know that many Christians believe the whole point of Easter Sunday is that God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. I believe that. I also believe that what happens tonight is extremely important. You won’t hear that part of the story in the Gospel until next Sunday, but I will give you a preview.

Jesus, still bearing his wounds visits the disciples and forgives them for abandoning him. This is also from John’s Gospel, chapter 20 and starting at verse 19, right after the Deacon finished a little while ago:

“19  . . . Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Now, to me this is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. The community that formed around the crucified and risen Lord actually did what he said. They took care of each other. They shared their stuff. They did not make Jesus into a martyr and try to get revenge. They forgave each other. They forgave their enemies. They washed each others’ feet. They gathered in the Lord’s name and shared the Mystical Supper.

2000 years later we are here still doing this. We have our difficulties. It is a tough time for churches. But we come together each week trying to be kind to each other. Forgiving each other. We intend to seek the best for each other. We do not celebrate in other peoples’ misfortune. We comfort each other during the hard times, and we celebrate in victories. We belong to the Lord and he is teaching us through the Holy Spirit how to live the Gospel. To be the People with Good News. Amen

re: A question about repentance

April 8, 2017

I preached a sermon on Sunday, March 19, 2017 (Lent 3A), in which I offered an interpretation of St. Paul’s understanding of the “Wrath (of God)” (Romans 5:1-11), and the kind of forgiveness that Jesus promises us in the example of the Woman at the Well (John 4:5-42).

Later that day I received a question by email asking about the role of repentance. The person asking was taught that forgiveness follows repentance. This is the way most people think about God’s forgiveness. Basically, that it is a transaction. I’m not so sure.

I responded pretty much like the following and I have permission to publish it.

St. Paul recognizes the problem of human sin and self-deception (Rom 7:15), but he struggles to come up with a way to reconcile the consequences of sin (misery), God’s anger, and God’s mercy and love.

The Johannine texts (those books attributed to John the Apostle) seem to be a later stage in the development of a more nuanced understanding of the causes of hatred, scapegoating, and violence. For instance, in the case of the story of the Samaritan women at the well (John 4) we have a situation in which Jesus is handling what looks like a pastoral problem.

The woman seems to be held in general disrepute, and Jesus offers her living water. This living water will sustain and preserve her forever. This is a reference to the Holy Spirit. The work of the Spirit directs people to live lives according to the will of God. The Holy Spirit affirms people in their status as beloved children of God. The Holy Spirit guides people toward honest self assessment. The Holy Spirit provides healing and upholds people in their faith in the Lord.

The living water is nourishing to the point of creating in us proper desires that are completely satisfying, and it open us up to the recognition of our deepest and worst sinful desires (without falling into despair or resorting to denial).

Repentance is crucial to moral and spiritual health. In the past it was generally assumed that a person only needed to do some basic self-reflection to arrive at what exactly is in need of repentance. With the knowledge we have now about unconscious motivation, I would suggest that experiences of God’s Grace and the promise of forgiveness tend to produce gratitude and repentance. This is more in line with the way Jesus deals with the woman caught in adultery and the woman at the well.

My own experience in talking with people confirms this. Remorse (not true repentance – “a turning around,” but regret and self-loathing) is late in coming, and often provoked by the experience of unpleasant events or circumstances. This dynamic gives support to the false notion that God actively punishes people by bringing misfortune.

So, finally I come down on the side (mostly) of reminding people they are forgiven, and trusting true repentance will follow.

Saturday, August 13, 2016 -re: 9th Annual Daily Grind Bicycle Ride (and this year, Blessing)

August 14, 2016

160813 9thDGRThis bike ride, sponsored by the Albany Bicycle Coalition and the Daily Grind coffee shops, starts at the Daily Grind in Albany and ends for lunch at the Daily Grind in Troy. This year the group made a stop at St. Paul’s Church for a blessing in the Church Garden, and a tour of the church conducted by David Graham.

I had the pleasure of riding with the group on the Corning Preserve Trail, and was honored to offer the following prayer during the Bicycle Blessing:

Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible, we come to you in prayer and thanksgiving.

In a world burdened by motorized transportation and consumption,
we give you gracious thanks for the wondrous bicycle,
on which we enjoy the goodness and beauty of your creation
while improving our fitness and health.

We ask you to protect the children who ride or who are learning to ride.
We ask you to keep all riders, leisure riders to elite athletes, safe from accidents.
We ask you to protect all riders from anger and theft.
We ask you to give us skill to ride in all sort of conditions, and
to help us forgive those who are negligent and mean.
We ask you, in thanksgiving for those who build or repair bicycles,
that you will guide them to be diligent and competent in their work.

Heavenly Father, be with us now and bless us as we dedicate these bicycles and their use to the preservation of lives to your honor and praise. Grant us faith to know your gracious purpose in all things. Give us joy in them and lead us to use all your gifts, including our bikes, with wisdom, compassion, patience and love.

We ask this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Sermon for Katie and Ryan Clapp Wedding on Saturday, May 21, 2016

May 25, 2016

I suppose some people are getting really tired of hearing me talk about being married for 45 years. On the 23rd of June Marianne and I will have completed 45 years. My reason for bringing this up again is not to brag, but to say something about marriage. When we got married I wasn’t much of a catch. I had dropped out of high school after the tenth grade. I was 18 and was working as a guard in the county prison. Marianne had finished high school and was working as a counselor in a crisis center for runaway teens. Neither one of us had any family to rely on. We were on our own and sort of stuck with each other. I bought this ring and a matching one for Marianne and the two of us went off to North Carolina and we got married.

The first 25 years were really tough. We always had money problems and I wasn’t a very patient person. We fought all the time. We went into counseling and eventually started going to church. By the time our 25th anniversary came around we could have a nice ceremony in an Episcopal Church to renew our vows with our children, grandchildren, and friends around us.

Over the years I have had a lot of opportunity to think about marriage. When I was eighteen I thought that if we felt strongly enough about each other and had some luck we would make it. Now I realize that luck has nothing to do with it. God was looking over us the whole time, and taking care of us. I had to come to appreciate the gift of marriage the hard way.

First of all, marriage is an institution. Marriage is something we enter into. We go in and live by the rules of marriage. We promise, in public, in front of witnesses, completely freely and without coercion, to start a new life living by the rules of the institution of marriage.  These rules are not arbitrary. The rules provide for a good life and the blessing of God. Sometimes we have to force ourselves to follow the rules. I wake up and say, “but today I don’t feel like it!” Sometimes you just have to decide to love her. Sometimes you just have to decide to love him.

But I don’t want to give you the impression that you have to just grit your teeth the whole time while you follow the rules of marriage. Many people think that religion (and marriage for that matter) was invented just to keep people from doing bad things.

(It is true that there is a part of the Christian tradition that embraces self-denial; fasting, vows of poverty, celibacy, etc.)

The Song of Soloman is a very short book in the OT: 117 verses. It is included in the Bible as a picture, in human terms, of the love that flows between God and His people.

Today’s text, however, (from chps. 2 & 8) is one of the readings appointed for use in our prayer book, for a celebration of a marriage. A recognition that the content is about a man and a woman.

The inclusion of The Song of Solomon in the Bible reminds us that it is simplistic to think that religion, especially Christian Faith, is only designed to make us behave like good boys and girls. (in theological terms this is called moral restraint.)

On the contrary, we believe that God made the world out of the pure joy that comes from making something – the act of creation.

And that God has given his creation the freedom to grow, develop, and change. And to take pleasure in doing these things.

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.” Genesis 1:31, RSV.

God took pleasure in making the world, and he only wants the best for us.

Song of Solomon:

“1 The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.

2 O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love is better than wine,” Song of Solomon 1:1, 2, RSV.

“5 I am very dark, but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon.” Song of Solomon 1:5, RSV.

I won’t read you chapter 7, where the man tells the woman everything he likes about her body.

OK, so you get the idea. This may be a picture of God’s love for His people, but is also a picture of human love.

In the reading for today: Chapter 2, the woman is resting and thinking about how much she loves her man, and suddenly he appears at the window and speaks – he says:

“10 My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11 for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 12 The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. 13 The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Song of Solomon 2:10-13, RSV.

The man wants to get away with his woman and have a good time. It is springtime after all, and flowers are blooming and the birds are singing.

Katie and Ryan: May you have many times of recreation and refreshment.

But in Chapter 8, the woman asks the man to confront the other truth about love. It is a deadly serious business. People can get hurt. People can die.

The woman says:

“6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame. 7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned.” Song of Solomon 8:6, 7, RSV.

“6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm;

The Good News Bible makes the translation:

“Close your heart to every heart but mine; hold no one in your arms but me.”

Marriage means making a commitment, and that means making a decision to love no matter what – it means that you promise to give up other loves that could ruin this love. (Not just other women – but anything that will hurt this marriage bond).

Katie and Ryan: My prayer is that you will be content with what you have today. Jesus loves you today and the next day, and all days. Marriage means making a commitment, and that means making a decision to love no matter what. May you each grow in your desire to please your spouse, and may you learn to forgive, and may your union grow stronger and stronger through the years. Amen

2016 Lenten Reflection

March 24, 2016

Lenten Reflection by Fr. Michael Gorchov

During Lent I’ve been giving talks on Wednesday nights at St. Anthony’s Church. This is part of a series of events that is designed to draw three Troy churches (St. Anthony’s [Roman Catholic], St. John’s and St. Paul’s [Episcopal]) closer together. The initiative is called the Fellowship of St. Francis.

The Lenten presentations are on the Nature of the Church as represented in agreed documents that have come out of dialogues between Anglicans and Roman Catholics that started in 1967, and became known as the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Committee (ARCIC).

One of the most helpful aspects of doing research on the ARCIC agreements is finding that both sides in the discussions have had to admit that certain terms have separated, rather than united, each other. And that these terms have often been used by each side to mean different things.

The following two words are good examples: Sanctification and Justification.

Some of the difficulty is that Anglicans did adopt principles expressed in two (gasp!) Lutheran Confessions (Augsburg and Württemberg), and that Anglicans have tended to believe that Roman Catholics intentionally repudiated these positions at the Council of Trent. In fact, the Anglican formularies had not even been compiled when the Decree on Justification from the Council of Trent was promulgated.

During the ARCIC discussions it was agreed that the New Testament employs a wide variety of language concerning salvation, and that there is no single controlling term or concept. All the terms (including deliverance, forgiveness, redemption, liberation, adoption, regeneration, rebirth, new creation, sanctification, and justification) complement each other.

Protestants have suspected that Catholics try to “buy” their way into heaven through prayer and good works (sanctification). Catholics tended to believe that Protestants felt so assured of their salvation (justification) that there was nothing left in this life for them to do.

Through the ARCIC talks it was agreed that justification and sanctification are actually two aspects of the same divine act (1 Cor 6:11).
1. Sanctification is that work of God which actualizes in believers the righteousness and holiness without which no one may see the Lord, and
2. the term justification speaks of a divine declaration of acquittal.

What this means for me is that God’s merciful “acquittal” (justification) is not at all the same as being judged “innocent.” Far from it. It just means that I have another opportunity to get closer to Jesus (sanctification).

A Lenten Collect

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and, finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sermon for Bridget and David Trimmer Wedding on Saturday, June 27, 2015:

June 28, 2015

Bridget and David – you really look like basically good people. Young, attractive, friendly, and very nice.

And as I have gotten to know you, I know you are basically good people.

Marianne and I have been married (as of this past Tuesday) 44 years. Marriage has a way of making it difficult to hide yourself from yourself. Marriage is not for wimps. Marriage is for heroes. I used to think I was basically a good person. Marianne has helped me to be more honest with myself about what motivates me. This has been very good so that I can be better behaved.

But God calls us not only to be better behaved. God wants us to be holy.

St. Paul uses a particular word in some of his letters – in Greek it is “enduo”, which we translate as “put on,” but enduo is better understood as “sinking into a new garment,” I bought a new suit for a fundraising gala we had at the Franklin Plaza in February. It felt so good to put on clothes that actually fit me.

This is what Paul means when he says put on Christ, or in the third chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians at verse 10,

“put on the new nature . . .”

and in the 12th verse, which was read today

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,

compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience,”

and . . . wait for it, put on forgiveness.

Put them on! You will need them!

And in the 14th verse

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

This way of thinking is foreign to our usual way of thinking about things. We tend to value authenticity. We say that someone is really sincere, or he is very real. He’s the real deal. The genuine article. True to himself.

St. Paul also says we should put away “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk.” This is so strange sounding.

It’s not so easy to take off malice and put on kindness. It really isn’t quite like putting on a new shirt.

David wrote to me about 10 months ago to ask if they could get married here at St. Paul’s Church. They knew they wanted to be married here. People just somehow feel different in here.

Bridget was baptized here on April 5th, Easter Sunday, at the 5am Vigil Service. We all traveled (in the dark) in procession from the Martha House building, through the garden by a big fire we had out there, and around into the dark church. The Deacon chanted. I Baptized Bridget in the font at the West end. The sun came up, and then we shared Communion.

And now we are here again. Bridget and David are marrying each other. As it says in that great baptismal hymn, “A new creation comes to life and grows.”

They are taking off their old lives and putting on a new life.

St. Paul says we can do this because “the new nature is being renewed.” God’s Holy Spirit helps us to take on things that we didn’t think we could do. And that same Holy Spirit guides us to learn new skills, and take on new habits, that will help us become holy. Our new nature is being renewed.

My hope for you David and Bridget is that you will go from here being willing to learn, and eagerly help each other as much as you can.

My prayer is that God will bless you, and give you strength and endurance as you experience the adventure of being a new creation. Amen.

Christmas Sermon 2014

December 25, 2014

Christmas Sermon 2014 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Troy, New York

[Gene Tobey sings “I wonder as I wander.” (All verses)]

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
 How Jesus the Savior did come for to die For poor on’ry people like you and like I… I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all. But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall,
 And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
 A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing, 
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing, He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King. (1.)

I wonder … I wonder what brought you to St. Paul’s this damp Christmas Eve …
If I wandered among you and asked you, I wonder if any of you would answer that you were here because of a baby … I can see that many of you are part of our regular St. Paul’s family, and no doubt you are here because St. Paul’s is your church and where else would you be on Christmas Eve?
Some of you might tell me that it is a long family tradition … others of you might say that you love the choir and the beautiful, stirring music. Some of you may well be here because St. Paul’s is such a beautiful church. A few of you may be here at the urging of family or friends and you want to be with them. Perhaps several of you “just wandered in” … to get warm, or out of curiosity.

My friends, for whatever the reason, I am glad you are here and I am happy to see you.

So it may surprise you that I am here to tell you that no matter what you may think … you are here because of a baby…

Our St Paul’s parishioners are here … because of a baby.
Those of you who believe you are here in observance of a long standing family tradition to be at St. Paul’s on Christmas eve … you came because of a baby . . .

Our faithful, talented choir members led by our exceptional organist and choir director, Brian Hoffman … are all here because of a baby … the glorious music they perform and the carols we sing are all about … a baby.
This magnificent church interior designed and executed by Louis Comfort Tiffany was built to the honor and glory of … a baby.

And all the rest of you who are here, willing or unwilling, curious or cold … yes, you got it … because of a little baby.

“Hush-a-bye, go to sleep little baby
There in the manger, safe beside your momma,
 Only the angels who watch over you as you are sleeping
 Know that you are here to change the world” (2.)

And I wonder … why God sent a tiny helpless infant to show us ‘poor ornery mortals’ how much he loves us and how he longs for us to love him back? Maybe it’s simply because it’s so easy to love a baby.

Actually I am convinced … that you are all here because somewhere deep inside there is an urge, a nudge, maybe a longing to approach that humble manger bed and whisper … “I love you too.”

[Gene sings first and last verse]
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
 How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I…

I wonder as I wander out under the sky. If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
 A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing, 
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing, He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King.

1. “I wonder as I wander” by John Jacob Niles
2. “The Secret of the Stars” From The Way Of The Wolf By Martin Bell.

Rector’s Newsletter Article for January, 2012

January 7, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

There is much rejoicing here at the Gorchovs’ house! Marianne’s back surgery has healed wonderfully, and she is doing things she was unable to do before the surgery. In addition, her eye operation was also successful. I had hand surgery in October and have recovered full use. Many great blessings!

In December I celebrated the tenth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. We had a wonderful worship service, with three bishops in attendance, and the choir offering their lovely voices. A great friend, Laurel Masse, honored us with a performance of Schubert’s Ave Maria, which she also sang at my ordination. I was very pleased that Anna Plumey was Confirmed in the Faith at the same service. The evening was capped by a wonderful dinner in the parish hall. What a great way to celebrate the beginning of my second decade as a priest in God’s one holy catholic and apostolic Church!

The theme of my sermon at the Eucharist was Christian vocation. Since my ordination anniversary falls on the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I took the opportunity to advance the idea that when God first conceived of Our Lady, God had in mind a person who would bear His incarnate Son. Still, it seems that Mary had the freedom to opt out – but thanks be to God – she said yes!

In the same way, Anna Plumey, has always been included in God’s plan as a person with a vocation (a calling) to God’s service. I, myself, was called to serve too. The time and place in which each person stands up to answer a call from God differs according to each person’s particular faith journey and circumstances. I am most grateful that God has been so patient and kind to me.

I pray that, as we move into Epiphany and then on to the season of Lent, you will take the time to seriously reflect on your own vocation. You may have been conceived by God to a life of service to the poor. You may have been called to offer your talents in other ways. But, I’m sure you have been called in some way. It is your task, if you choose to take it on, to discover what your vocation is, and then say yes!

Blessings, Michael+

Rector’s Newsletter Article for November, 2011

November 10, 2011

“For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”  2 Corinthians 1:5

Marianne is home! Thanks be to God! Many of you know that my wife Marianne recently had lower back surgery to restore lost function to her legs. This operation came just weeks after she had cataract surgery. In between these surgeries I had surgery on my left hand. When we made the arrangements earlier in the year, our thinking was that we would like to be fully operational by the time the weather is really cold and nasty. The jury is still out on whether we made the right calculation. Marianne’s eye is almost completely healed, and my hand is proceeding apace.

But, the surgery on Marianne’s back is of a wholly different nature and scope. Her level of pain, and the expected recovery time, is much greater. The surgeon told me in the waiting room afterward that the operation went well, but that Marianne would experience a very high degree of pain in the coming days. According to Marianne, he wasn’t exaggerating!

The new patient pavilion at St. Peter’s Hospital includes a very large surgical waiting area. Usually patients spend about two hours in “recovery” before being transferred to a hospital room. For some reason Marianne didn’t get to her room in the main hospital building for over four hours! By the time she was moved, the waiting area had cleared out and there were only two people left – myself, and a woman waiting for her husband.

The next day I ran into the same woman again in the hallway outside Marianne’s room. After exchanging pleasantries, she shared with me that her husband had decided to come in to have a quick “in-and-out” hip replacement. During his recovery something went wrong with the new hip and because of the excruciating pain, he began to put so much weight on his other “good” hip that he managed to break that one. So, here he was now back in the hospital getting the first hip replacement repaired, but also having an entire replacement of his other hip! The woman standing before me, shaking her head really didn’t think it was funny – it was more that the situation was so absurd that she couldn’t believe it was all actually happening.

I saw the woman one more time in the hospital that week. She was at a table with a friend, on the far side of the food court. We waved to each other as people who had shared a common experience. We both had sat for hours in the same waiting room while our loved ones underwent surgery. We both were now attending to our spouses at the beginning of a long recovery. With a simple wave of a hand we were acknowledging each to the other that even though we can’t always make sense of what life dishes out, we still want more of it. We still want to go forward with our lives – she, to walk again with her husband; me, to walk with Marianne.

I have struggled, as do most people who have lived a bit, with the meaning of suffering.  I have come to an understanding (and in trusting to a loving God) that evil, pain, and suffering are simply facts of life. I trust that God knows best. But I do notice now how precious the good times are, especially as I become more and more aware of how little we can count on a safe and pain-free existence. I feel somewhat foolish thinking back on how much of my life I spent expecting, and counting on, things to go well. Oh well, as Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young.”

I was driving today to one more medical appointment while listening to the country music station. The song I heard lifted my spirits. Here it is. It’s about a man who just learned he had a terminal illness.

How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?

Man whatcha do?

An’ he said: “I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,

“I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.

“And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,

“And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”

An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,

“To live like you were dyin’.”

He said “I was finally the husband,

“That most the time I wasn’t.

“An’ I became a friend a friend would like to have.

“And all of a sudden goin’ fishin’,

“Wasn’t such an imposition,

“And I went three times that year I lost my Dad.

“Well, I finally read the Good Book,

“And I took a good long hard look,

“At what I’d do if I could do it all again,

“And then:

“I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,

“I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.

“And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,

“And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”

An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,

“To live like you were dyin’.”

Like tomorrow was a gift,

And you got eternity,

To think about what you’d do with it.

An’ what did you do with it?

An’ what can I do with it?

An’ what would I do with it?

Blessings, Michael+

*Tim McGraw, Live Like You Were Dying

Rector’s Newsletter Article for September, 2011

September 11, 2011

Greetings!

In this issue of the parish newsletter I offer a quick peak into our recent vacation, and a couple of more comments about doctrine.

1. Marianne and I had great time in Rangeley, Maine on our vacation. We again took along our Field Spaniels, Oscar and Babette – and our Maine Coon Cat, Kirby. The dogs had a very good time swimming in Dodge Pond! They were really good about swimming out to get a toy and coming right back (for a treat). There was only one time when things got out of hand. We were down by the dock and the dogs were still on their leashes, when a female Mallard duck flew in, plopped down, and started paddling around about ten feet away. The dogs started barking and became just a tad excited. Oscar slipped his collar, but I was able to hold him by the scruff of his neck. Babette got loose and ran to the end of the dock, but didn’t jump in because her leash was caught on a nail. Marianne quickly got to her and grabbed the leash, and we decided that was enough excitement for the afternoon! We didn’t see the duck again, and the dogs went swimming a few more times before our vacation was over. Kirby declined our offers to take him swimming. And now on to the other topics.

2. I was reminded recently about something that seems on first glance a bit odd: Down to this day the Latin and Greek titles for the Nicene Creed are Symbolum Nicaenum (Nicene Symbol) and symbolon tes pistews (Symbol of Faith). In the ancient Greek world a symbolon was half of a broken object, which when joined to the other half, became proof of the bearer’s identity. So, by extension, the Creed became the symbol of Christian identity by which Christians could recognize each other.

3. In my last newsletter article I wrote about an ecumenical approach to achieving agreement on doctrine advanced by George Lindbeck in the 1980s. In his groundbreaking book, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Post-liberal Age, (Westminster John Knox Press, 1984), Lindbeck proposed that by treating doctrinal statements as rules by which we speak about God, we might be able to discuss with other Christians the way church teachings are internally coherent, without getting bogged down in endless circular arguments about how something we say is true, is true, because we have always said it is true. Lindbeck uses the secular example of how Brits drive their cars on the left side of the road, and North Americans drive on the right. It would be fruitless indeed to spend much time arguing about who is right on that topic!

But there are many things that various Christians can agree on, and they can agree not primarily because these are things that each group has always said they believed, but because they represent core truths about Christian Faith. Often, these are things that we can all agree should not be said about God.

Here is an example of how this approach might work:

The doctrine of the Trinity says that the Father and Son are co-eternal, and therefore the Church has insisted that the Creator of the universe is essentially loving, forgiving, and merciful. But the violence attributed to God in parts of the Old Testament seems inconsistent with the Christian belief in a loving Creator. In this case the doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that the Bible is a divinely inspired document that has been written and handed down through the generations by fallible human authors, and that the actions and motives attributed to God by these authors must always be interpreted through the offering of God Himself in the Life, Suffering, and Death of our Lord Jesus.

“He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” 1 John 4:8, RSV.

Therefore, we must not say that God is violent or actively encourages violence.

I pray that you would take from these comments about the Nicene Creed, that
a. by calling the Creed a symbol (or sign), the Church has never said that it should be received symbolically, but instead, truthfully as “statements of our basic beliefs about God.” (BCP, p. 851)
b. by seeking agreement between Christian churches through dialogue, we all might learn more of what is essential to Christian faith and belief, so that we “may all be one.” (John 17:21)

May God bless you, Michael+