Monday, December 17, 2012

Hey - I'll give you my birthright for some of that stew

We have next the story of Jacob and Esau - Esau - who is what a man of his time was supposed to be - but also was very rash - comes in hungry and basically trades his rights as oldest son to his 90 pound weekling brother for an after school snack.  Not, perhaps, a sign of a thoughtful individual.

We move on from their to the story of a famine and Isaac repeating the mistakes of his father, Abraham, but also redigging some of his wells and having God reinterate the promises that He made to Abraham.

Bible study is taking a two-week break.  January 7 we will resume the story of Isaac and Jacob

Monday, December 10, 2012

Moving from Abraham to Jacob

We are reaching the end of the Abraham story and through to Jacob - to get there we go through Isaac.

In many ways Isaac is the hinge of the story - it is through him that we move from the story of a person (Abraham) to the story of a nation (Jacob)

But before we get to Jacob there are three things to point out:

1. Isaac takes Rebekkah into his mother's tent - he puts her in Sarah's place
2. When Abraham dies Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury their father
3. Ishmael, as God has promised, becomes the father of a nation (and has 12 sons - remember that when we get to Jacob) - but that his nation is established between Egypt and Assyria - in other words, far away from Isaac

Monday, December 3, 2012

Waiting for God

It seems appropriate that as we begin Advent we find Abraham still waiting for God to begin the process of keeping his promise.

We pick up Abraham's story with him heading to the land of the Philistines.  Abraham, apparently, wasn't paying much attention when he was in Egypt, because he tries the same thing here - having Sarah say that she is his sister and giving her to the king of the land.  God again intervenes and returns Sarah to Abraham.

Then, finally, Sarah and Abraham have a son, Isaac.  After the rejoicing subsides, Sarah gets very jealous of Hagar and Ishmael and Abraham sends them out into the wilderness.  God saves Hagar and Ishmael and promises that he, also will be a founder of a great nation. 

We turn back to Abraham and God has one final challenge for him.  God tells Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God.  To us this is a shocking thing for God to ask.  Abarahm would not have found it shocking - all of the gods of all of the people among whom Abraham lived required the sacrifice of a child.  What made it a test was that Abraham had waited so long for this son.  Abraham obeys God and God does not require the sacrifice of Isaac.

We then hear of Sarah's death and of Abraham securing a burial ground for her in the land of Caanan.  And then Abraham's thoughts turn to acquiring a wife for his son - this is the transition between the Abraham story and the next major portion of Genesis - the Jacob story.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Why we don't let children read the Bible

It's because of the next part of the Abraham story (among others).  If you have young children do not let them read chapters 16 through 19 of Genesis. 

In Chapter 16 they will be taught that if God isn't keeping his promises fast enough that they should try to help.  In this chapter we find Sarai - Abram's wife - trying to get him the children God promised by giving him her handmaid, who does indeed have a son, Ishmael

In Chapter 17 they will learn about circumcision and that God isn't sure if he is one, or three or two - because the conversation that Abram has with God moves between three men and God and aparently an angel and God.  Oh, and that God can change your name.

In Chapter 18 they will learn to bargin with God - as Abraham does to try to prevent him from destroying Sodom and Gomorah

Which leads us to Chapter 19 - in which they will learn about how not to welcome guests to your city, that your daughters can be used to placate a mob who wants your guests, that you should argue with God as you flee for your life - and then there is that incest thing that ends the chapter.

Okay - well none of that is, you will be stunned to hear, the point.  What I suspect that we are supposed to learn from this part of the saga is to trust that God has a plan and that when we try to help God's plan along we end up making a mess.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Abraham story begins

We don't have Abraham yet, we have Abram - he will become Abraham later.  But here we have the beginning of the story.  Abraham is called out of his father's home and sent by God to a new land with the promise that he will be the father of a great nation and that his descendants will be a blessing to all people.

So, Abram goes and God shows him some land and promises it will be his.  Then we get a little side story - a famine hits and Abram takes his wife and goes to Egypt - but he tells his wife to say that she's his sister so people don't kill him to get her.  Well, Pharoah decides he wants her and gives Abram livestock and slaves for her - but when God sends sickness to his house he figures out what's going on and sends her back and tells Abram to get out of Egypt.  This is one of those things the recurs in the story - things aren't going the wayAbram thinks they should, he tries to fix them and messes up a bit and God gets it back on track

So Abram gets back to Canaan and God makes a covenant with him - God promises that Abram will be the father of  a great nation and that his descendents will have the land - but he also says that they will be exiles and persecuted for 400 years.  Abram forgets that part later - but stay tuned.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Noah to Abram

We reach the end of the first of the four parts of the story in Genesis this week - with the end of the flood narrative and the geneology that takes us from Noah and his sons to Abram - later known as Abraham.

The intersecting circles of the Genesis story - the one of God calling the world and humanity into being and our response - and the one of us being close to God, moving away from God and God drawing us back - reach the starting point again ready to begin the next round - the Abraham story.

Two things to notice - the generations of Noah describe the nations of the world as they were at the time of King Solomon.  And the story of the tower of Babel, which gets plunked right in the middle of the geneology, explains that the Babylonians were arrogant and tried to reach God - and God dealt with them.  Both of those things make perfect sense when you remember that the final editing of Genesis took place while the nation of Israel was in exile in Babylon.  So the kingdom of Solomon was the high point of their history and the story that has the Babylonians exceeding their place and being punished by God for arrogance would have resonated deeply with the exiles.

We get Abraham next week - stay tuned.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Noah's Ark

Anyone who has ever been in either my office or my home knows that I love Noah's Ark and collect ark's in all shapes and sizes.  So it was fun to cover that story in Bible study - and appropriate given the weather right now.

A few points - if you want to read along the story is found in Genesis 6:5 - 9:17

First notice that God is sorry that he created human beings at all - and decides to get rid of not only them but all animals - but then God thinks about Noah and decides to save him.  This is one of the first places in Scripture that God changes his mind.

Then notice that Noah takes not only the "two by two" that we are familar with but seven pairs of the "clean" animals, that is the ones we can eat.

The main part of the story you are probably familar with - it rains for 40 days and nights and finally stops.  But after it stops raining there is this wonderful sentence.  "And God remembered Noah"  In Hebrew the word for life and the word for remember are very closly linked and in Hebrew thought - as long as you are remembered you continue to exist.  So for God to remember you is a big deal.

At the end of the story God sets out a fresh Covenant with Noah and his sons and begins the process of distinguishing between human justice and God's justice.  God makes a promise that he won't destroy the earth with flood and uses the rainbow as a sign.  Notice that word remember again.  God will remember his covenant with Noah every time a rainbow appears in the sky.

Monday, October 15, 2012

From Adam to the flood

Chapters 4 and 5 of Genesis are the ones that usually stop people who are trying to read through the Bible from beginning to end.

In the beginning of Chapter 4 you have the story of Cain and Abel - where evil really enters the world.  Then we have the listing of the descendants of Cain - and how some of them became hearders and others musicians and others metal workers.

Then we get the 10 generations from Adam to Noah - it's an interesting list - note especially that of all 10 - only Enoch "walked with the Lord" and while all of the others die, Enoch is taken by God.

It ends with the odd paragraph about the sons of God - that is "Elohim" which Hebrew uses for both the God of Israel and all other gods - having relations with the daughters of men and spawning the Nephalim- the giants. 

All of that gets us ready for the flood story - that is coming in two weeks, stay tuned.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Reflecting on Creation Stories

Some additional questions about the two creation stories:

1. What does it mean that human beings are made in the image of God?
2. What does it mean to have dominion over creation?
3. What does it mean that God says "it is not good for the man to be alone?"
4. Why would God want to keep human beings from knowing good and evil?

Bible study is taking a break next week - we'll be back in two weeks with the Cain and Abel story.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The second creation story

Last week we covered the first creation story - the one with seven days and God resting on the 7th day.

This week we get the second creation story:

It doesn't quite fit with the other one.  In this one God starts with the plants - he brings forth water and with the water he tills the ground and brings forth plants - including the trees of life and of the knowledge of good and evil.

Then we get man made from the earth and placed in the garden and told not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Then God wants a companion for the man and brings every creature on earth past the man - but the man doesn't find a fit companion - so God makes woman.

Now enter the snake - who talks the woman into eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the woman gets the man to eat and God comes and they all get expelled from the garden so that they don't eat from the tree of life and live forever.

A couple of points:
1. Human beings are created to be in relationship - "It is not good for the man to be alone"  We are created to interact with one another.
2.  It is doubt (in the story introduced by the snake) that causes the problems - and that is true in our relationship with God and in our relationship with each other - when we doubt the problems come
3. In this story God is both singular "he" and plural "we"  God is not confined by our grammatical constructs
4. It is doubt and disobediance that causes humans relationships with God to be broken - both for Adam and Eve and for us.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Genesis Chapter 1

The first chapter of Genesis contains one of the two stories of creation that are found in the book.

I love the first couple of verses of this:  In the beginning when God was creating the heavens and the earth.  The earth was a formless void and the breath of God moved over the face of the waters.

There are a few things about this creation story to note:

1. The days are evening and morning - this is still the way that both Judaism and the Catholic and Episcopal churches count the days - from sundown to sun up  rather than the Roman way from sun up to sundown.

2. God refers to himself in the plural - let us make

3. God refers to the creation as good or pleasant but not perfect

4. God creates human kind - literally earth beings - in his own image.  The verses read:  "So God created humankind in his image, in teh image of God he created them; male and female he created them."  - We are made in the image of God

5. And God rests on the seventh day.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Genesis - in the beginning

This year in Bible Study we are studying the book of Genesis.  We are trying an experiment and in addition to our Monday morning class we will have a monthly evening class and every monday I will post a synopsis here and on our Facebook page. 

You can comment or ask questions in a comment here and I'll try to get back to you as soon as I can.

So - Genesis - the first book of the Bible.  You probably know some of the stories, and there are some you think you know and some that you have never heard before.

To start - Genesis is actually a Greek title that was given to the book by Christians in days of the Christian church.  The Hebrew title is the first word of the book - Barashet - which litterally means "in the beginning"

Genesis is made up of really ancient stories that have been told and retold for countless generations.  The final editing of the book happened in the 6th century B.C. - so the book, pretty much as we have it, has been in existance since 600 years before Christ.

There are two interconnected themes in the book.
1. God calls the world into being
2. God calls human beings into relationship with him.

Those calls and the responses to them make up the core of Genesis.  We'll be exploring them until June - come along for the journey.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mission Trip

A group of us from St. Paul's went on Mission Trip to Elyria, Ohio last week.  Three adults and five teenagers spent a week building handicapped access ramps to allow people to get into and out of their homes and also making new friends and having fun.

In the sermon that they preached at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Elyria on Sunday some of the youth said that just like Jesus used the little that he had (five loaves and two fish) we used the little that we had (some skills and experiance and few tools and some wood) to change the lives of people and our own.

I can't think of a better sermon than that.  Ask Haley, Dan, Mary Frances, Timmy, Steven, Jason or Brian about their week - they have stories to tell.

Monday, July 16, 2012

General Convention

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church is over for the next three years and, as I suppose can only be expected of a gathering of more than 2,000 people that lasted more than a week, the reports of it are not quite the whole truth. 

You may have read some things about what we did or didn't decide as a denomination - but here are two of my favorites.

The first is a fairly comprehensive report of what did happen from the Episcopal News Service.  The second is a first hand report in the Huffington Post by Winnie Varghese.  Winnie was the voting secretary for the House of Deputies so she was there for every minute of debate and dialog.

Neither of them, nor any other reporting I've read truly captures the mix of legislature, family reunion, church picnic and vestry meeting that is General Convention - but they begin to give you a sesnse of  what happened. 

Let me know if you have any questions.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What is a mustard seed?

It's a small seed that grows into a big plant. The Diocese has given each deanery a small amount of money and asked us to do big things with it.

Our deanery and Northern Erie have gone together - we are focusing on getting the word out that "God loves you - no exceptions"

As a part of this we've started a website where we can spread the word that God loves you - no exceptions.

Check it out. A big part of it is going to be interviews with people telling how God loves us.

We need lots of people to answer the following questions:

1. What is your dream for the world?

2. When did you know that God loves you?

3. When did you know that God loves everyone - no exceptions?

E-mail your answers to Pastor Vicki at or let her know that you are willing to be interviewed on video and we'll get your story up there too. The more people who participate the more people we'll be able to reach, the bigger the mustard seed will grow.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Bishop Franklin confirmed eight young people when he visited us last Sunday.

Here's a picture of one of the confirmations.

The Bishop included in his sermon some things from the statements of faith that our confirmands had written.

Congratulations to the confirmands, their families and to all of the people of St. Paul's who were a part of helping them grow and explore their faith.

In baptism we promise to do all in our power to suppor the person being baptized in his or her life in Christ.  This is one part of what that means.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I've been thinking about joy this week.  One of the hallmarks of Easter is supposed to be joy.  Joy that Christ has risen, joy that we no longer need to fear death, joy in the renewal of life, joy.

It seems to me that it is hard for us to hold on to joy.  We so rarely seem to find it.

I was thinking about the little kids running around at the Easter Egg hunt on Holy Saturday

There is little to match the pure joy of small children running around in the sun.  I wish I could capture a little of that kind of joy more often. 

So, maybe for the Great 50 days of Easter we could seek a little more joy in our daily lives.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter

Welcome to the great 50 days - the days that begin with Easter and end with Pentecost when we celebrate with joy the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his victory over death.

It is a time for joy, and family and to remember those we love and those who love us and to look for joy and love in all parts of our lives.

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life:  Grant that I, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lent Week 5

A reading on Christian charity from A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law

Miranda (the sister of Flavia) is a sober, reasonable Christian:  as soon as she was mistress of her time and fortune, it was her first thought how she might best fulfill everything that God required of her in the use of them, and how she might make best and happiest use of this short life.  She depends upon the truth of what our blessed Lord has said, that there is but “One thing needful,” and therefore makes her whole life but one continual labor after it.  She has but one reason for doing or not doing, for liking or not liking anything, and that is the will of God.  She is not so weak as to pretend to add what is called the fine lady to the true Christian; Miranda thinks too well to be taken with the sound of such silly words; she has renounced the world to follow Christ in the exercise of humility, charity, devotion, abstinence, and heavenly affections.

Miranda does not divide her duty between God, her neighbor, and herself; but she considers all as due to God, and so does everything in God’s Name, and for God’s sake.  This makes her consider her fortune as the gift of God, that is to be used, as everything is that belongs to God, for the wise and reasonable ends of a Christian and holy life.  Her fortune therefore is divided between herself and several other poor people, and she has only her part of relief from it.  She thinks it the same folly to indulge herself in needless, vain expenses, as to give to other people to spend in the same way.  Therefore as she will not give a poor man money to go see a puppet-show, neither will she allow herself any to spend in the same manner; thinking it very proper to be as wise herself as she expects poor men should be.  For it is a folly and a crime in a poor man, says Miranda, to waste what is given him in foolish trifles, while he wants meat, drink, and clothes.

It may be, says Miranda, that I may often given to those that do not deserve it, or that will make an ill use of my alms.  But what then?  Is not this the very method of Divine goodness?  Does not God make his “sun to rise on the evil and on the good”?  Is not this the very goodness that is recommended to us in Scripture, that, by imitating of it, we may be children of our Father in Heaven, who “sends rain on the just and on the unjust”?  And shall I withhold a little money, or food, from my fellow-creatures, for fear they should not be good enough to receive it of me?  Do I beg of God to deal with me, not according to my merit, but according to God’s own great goodness; and shall I be so absurd as to withhold my charity from a poor brother or sister, because they may perhaps not deserve it?  Shall I use a measure towards them, which I pray God never to use towards me?

You will perhaps say, that by this means I encourage people to be beggars.  But the same thoughtless objection may be made against all kinds of charities, for they may encourage people to depend upon them.  The same may be said against clothing the naked, or giving medicines to the sick; for that may encourage people to neglect themselves, and be careless of their health.  But when the love of God swells in you, when it has enlarged your heart, and filled you with bowels of mercy and compassion, you will make no more such objections as these.

This is the spirit, and this is the life, of the devout Miranda; and if she lives ten years longer, she will have spent sixty hundred pounds in charity, for that which she allows herself, may fairly be reckoned amongst her alms.

When she dies, she must shine among Apostles, and saints, and martyrs; she must stand among the first servants of God, and be glorious among those that have fought the good fight, and finished their course with joy.

She considers all as due to God.

On what basis do we give?  How do we balance stewardship & alms?  What is the difference between personal and impersonal almsgiving.

From A Time To Turn by Christopher Webber

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lent Week 4

A reading from The Spirit of Prayer by William Law

The Spirit of Prayer is a pressing forth of the soul out of the earthly life.  It is a stretching with all its desire after the life of God.  It is a leaving, as far as it can, all its own spirit to receive a Spirit from above, to be one life, one love, one spirit with Christ in God.  This prayer, which is an emptying itself of all its own lusts and natural tempers, and an opening itself for the light and love of God to enter into it, it’s the prayer in the Name of Christ, to which nothing is denied for the love which God bears to the soul.  His eternal, never-ceasing desire to enter into it, to dwell in it, an open the birth of his Holy Word and Spirit in it stays not longer than till the door of the heart opens for him.  For nothing does, or can keep God out of the soul, or hinder his holy union with it, but the desire of the heart turned from him.  And the reason of it is this.  It is because the life of the soul is in itself nothing else but a working will and therefore wherever the will works or goes, there, and there only, the soul lives whether it be in God or the creature.

Nothing does or can go with us into Heaven.  Nothing follows us into Hell, but that in which the will dwelt, with which it was fed, nourished and clothed in this life.  And this is to be noted well, that death can make no alteration of this state of the will.  It only takes off the outward, worldly covering of flesh and blood, and forces the soul to see and feel and know what a life, what a state, food, body and habitation, its own working will has brought forth in it.    

Tell me, is there anything in life that deserves a thought, but how to keep this working of our will in a right state, and to get that purity of heart which alone can see and know and find and possess God?  Is there anything so frightful as this worldly spirit which turns the soul from God, makes it a House of Darkness, and feeds it with the food of time at the expense of all of the riches of eternity?  On the other hand, what can be so desirable a good as the Spirit of Prayer, which empties the soul of all its own evil, separates death and darkness from it, leaves Self, time and the world, and becomes one life, one light, one love, one spirit with Christ and God and Heaven.

Think, my Friends, of these things with something more than thoughts.  Let your hungry souls eat of the nourishment of them as a bread of Heaven, and desire only to live that with all the working of your wills and the whole spirit of your minds, you may live and die united to God.

Prayer is an opening to light and love
How do you remember being taught to pray?  What is your experience with prayer?  How has your prayer life changed over time?

From A Time To Turn by Christopher Webber

William Law (1686-1761) was one of those who refused to take the oath of loyalty to George I and therefore was forced to live outside the established church.  His Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life nevertheless became one of the most widely read books of devotion ever published.  He served as tutor to the father of Edward Gibbon and lived a life of great simplicity, working to organize schools and almshouses.  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lent - Week 3

A reading on fasting from a sermon by Phillips Brooks on the text:  “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not only by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  (Matthew 6:16-18)

The idea of Lent is spiritual culture, and always, as a part of that idea, has been associated with Lent the idea of abstinence.  We are looking forward to a soberer and quieter life, a life, which in some form or other is to fast from some of its indulgences.  Is it not good that we should try to see what God designs by those Lents, those periods of sobered life and abstinence from outward pleasures, which both in God’s word and in the intimations of our own nature have God’s sanction and authority?

            God has a reason for everything.  Our best religious progress consists in large part of this, the coming by sympathy with God to see the reasons of what have been to us bare commandments.  The change from the arbitrary to the essential look in what God does is the richest and most delightful feature of the spiritual growth. 

            Let us ask what is the use of fasting, for so we shall best come to understand the true methods and degrees of fasting.  And let us begin with this.  All bodily discipline, all voluntary abstinence from pleasure of whatever sort, must be of value either as a symbol of something or as a means of something.  These two functions belong to it as being connected with the body, which is at once the utterer and the educator of the soul within.

            Just suppose any great mental or moral change to come in someone’s life.  We will not speak of the great fundamental religious change of conversion; but any change from frivolity to earnestness, from lightness to seriousness of life.  The one who has been carless, free, and irresponsible, taking life as it came, with no reality, no sense of duty, undertakes a different way of living, begins to study, begins to work, seeks knowledge, accepts obligations. The old life fades away and a new life begins.  Self indulgence is put aside.  Self-devotion takes its place.  This is a spiritual, an inward change.  It is independent of outward circumstances.  One may conceivably live this new life, and everything external be still the same that it has always been.  But practically this more earnest inward life suits the outer life to itself.  Quickly or gradually the one who has begun to life more seriously within, begins to live more simply without.  Such a one comes instinctively to less gorgeous dresses and barer walls and slighter feasts.  The outer life is restrained and simplified.  And this restraint and simplicity is at once a symbol or expression of the changed inner life, and a means for its cultivations.

            If the change is one which involves repentance and self-reproach, the giving up of a life which never ought to have been lived at all for one that always has been a duty, then both of these offices of the outward self-denial become plainer.  The stripping of the old luxury off from the life is at once an utterance of humble regret for a wrong past, and also an opening of the soul to new and better influences.  It is as when a reveler at a banquet is suddenly summoned to a battle where he ought to be in the front rank. As he spring up from the couch in self-reproach, the casting away of his garlands and his robes means, first, his shame at having been idle and feasting when he ought to have been at work; and second, his eagerness to have his limbs free so that the work which he has now undertaken may be well done.  His stripping off of his wanton luxuries is at once a symbol of his self-reproach for the past, and a means of readiness for the new work that awaits him.  And that is the meaning of all voluntary mortification which has any meaning.

Fasting provides an opening of the soul.  What are our luxuries? What are we overwhelmed by?  What should we fast from?

Phillips Brooks (1813-1893) was rector of Trinity Church Boston for over twenty years before serving briefly as bishop of Massachusetts.  Many volumes of his sermons were published and his hymn, “O little town of Bethlehem,” is one of the best known of all Christian hymns.

From A Time to Turn by Christopher Webber

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lent Week 2

Each week in Lent we are reading one of the writings from Christopher Webber's book A Time to Turn.

You can join the discussion each week at one of three times:
Sunday 9:15 am; Wednesday 6:15 pm; Thursday 1:00 pm

A reading from a meditation on God’s love by Elizabeth Rowe
O Lord God, permit a worthless creature to plead a little with you.  What honor will my destruction bring you? What profit, what triumph to the Almighty will my perdition be?  Mercy is your brightest attribute; this gives you all your loveliness, and completes your beauty.  By names of kindness and indulgence you have chosen to reveal yourself to us, by titles of the most tender meaning you have made yourself known to my soul: title which you do not yet disdain, but are still compassionate, and ready to pardon.

But that you have or will forgive me, O my God, aggravates my guilt.  And will you indeed forgive me?  Will you remit the gloomy score, and restore the privilege I have forfeited?  Wondrous love! Astonishing benignity!  Let me never live to repeat my ingratitude; let me never live to break my penitent vows; let me died before that unhappy moment arrives.

Almighty Love, the theme of every heavenly song! Infinite Grace, the wonder of angels! Forgive a mortal tongue that attempts thy praise; and yet should we be silent, the mute creation would find a voice to upbraid us.

But, oh, in what language shall I speak? With what circumstance shall I begin? Shall I roll back the volumes of eternity, and begin with the glorious design that determined our redemption before the birth of Time, before the confines of Creation were fixed?  Infinite years before the day, Or heavens began to roll? 

Shall I speak in general of all the nations of the redeemed? Or to excite my own gratitude, shall I consider myself, my worthless self, included, by an eternal decree, among the number of those who should hear of a Redeemer’s name and be marked out a partaker of that immense privilege?  Before the foundations of the hills were laid the gracious design was formed, and the blessed plan of it schemed out before the curtains of the sky were spread.

Lord! What are we? What am I? what is all the human race, to be so regarded? O narrow thoughts, and narrower words! Here confess your defects.  These are heights not to be reached by you.  Adorable measures of infinite clemency! Unsearchable riches of grace! With what astonishment do I survey you!  I am swallowed and lost in the glorious immensity.  All hail, you divine mysteries! You glorious paths of the unsearchable Deity: let me adore though I can never express you.

Yet should I be silent, heaven and earth, no hell itself, would reproach me; the damned themselves would call me ungrateful, should I fail to celebrate that grace, whose loss they are for ever lamenting, a loss that leaves them for ever desperate and undone.  ‘Tis this grace which tunes the harps of heaven, and yields them an immortal subject of harmony and praise.  The spirits of just men made perfect fix their contemplations here; they adore the glorious mystery, and while they sing the wonders of redeeming love, they subscribe sublime and living honors to the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb for ever. And infinitely worthy are you, O Lord, to receive the grateful homage.  Who shall not praise and magnify your name? who shall deny the tribute of your glory? 

But alas! What can mortals add to you?  What can nothingness and vanity give? We murmur from the dust, and attempt your praise from the depths of misery.  Yet you condescend to hear and listen to our broken accents; amid the hallelujahs of angels our groans ascend to you, our complaints reach you; from the height of your happiness and from the exaltations of eternal glory, you have a regard to us, poor wretched humanity!  You receive our homage with delight, our praises mingle with the harmony of angels, nor interrupt the sacred concord.  Those natives of heaven whose morning stars sing together in their heavenly beatitudes, nor disdain to let the children of earth and mortality join with them in celebrating the honors of Jesus, their Lord and ours.  To him be every tongue devoted, and let every creature for ever praise God.  Amen.

Who shall not praise God? What is grace?  For what do we praise God?  How can we praise God enough?

Elizabeth Rowe (1674-1737) was encouraged to write by Bishop Thomas Ken of Bath and Wells and published several biblical character sketches.  Her devotional prose was not published until after her death.  The fervor of her language embarrassed her editor, who modified language that he considered too extravagant.

From A Time to Turn by Christopher Webber

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lent - Week One

Each week in Lent we are reading a piece from an Anglican theologian or writer and discussing it.  The pieces are taken from Christipher Webber's book A Time to Turn.
If you want to discuss this week's piece come to one of the discussion sessions:
Sunday - 9:15 am; Tuesday - 6:15 pm; Thursday - 1:00 pm

A reading on sin from a sermon on John Donne on the text, “For my iniquities overwhelm me; like a heavy burden they are too much for me to bear”  (Psalm 38:4)

I cannot excuse my sins because of the example of my father, nor can I excuse them because of the times, or because of the ill disposition that rules society now, and do ill because everybody else does so.  To say there is a rot, therefore the sheep must perish, corruptions in religion have crept in and work in every corner and therefore God’s sheep, simple souls, must be content to admit the infection of this rot; that there is a murrain, and therefore cattle must die; superstition practiced in many places, and therefore the strong servants of God must come to sacrifice their obedience to it, or their blood for it.  There is no such rot, no such murrain, no such corruption of the times as can lay a necessity, or can afford an excuse to those who are corrupted with the times.  It is not such a peace as takes away honor that secures a nation, nor such a peace as takes away zeal that secures a conscience, so neither is it an observation of what others do or are inclined to do but what truth and integrity you decline from that needs to be considered.

It is not the sin of your father, not the sin of the times, not the sin of your own years, that you should say in your old age, in excuse of your covetousness, I have lived temperately, continently, all my life and therefore may be allowed one sin for my ease in my old age.  Or that you should say in your youth, I will retire in my old age and live contentedly then with a little, but now, how vain it would be to attempt to keep out the tide or quench the heat and impetuous violence of youth.  For if you think it enough to say, I have only lived as others have live, you will find some examples to die by also, and die as other old men and women, old in years and old in sins, have died also: negligently or fearfully, without any sense a tall, or all their sense turned into fearful apprehension and desperation.

They are not such sins as those of that age need to commit, nor such sins as those of your calling or your profession cannot avoid; so that you should say, I shall not be believed to understand my profession, as well as others, if I do not live by it as well as others do.  Is there no way to be a carpenter, except that after he has been made warm by the chips, and baked, and roasted by it, it is necessary to make an idol of the wood, and worship?  Is there no way to be a silversmith without needing to make shrines for Diana of the Ephesians as Demetrius did? No way to be a lawyer without serving the passion of the client?  No way to be a preacher without sowing pillows under great men’s elbows?  It is not the sin of your calling that oppresses you.  God has instituted callings for the conservation of order in general, not for the justification of disorders in any particular.  For those who justify their faults by their calling, have not yet received that calling from above, which is where they must be justified and sanctified on the way and glorified in the end.  There is no lawful calling in which you may not be honest.  

You cannot excuse yourself by the unjust command of your superior; nor the ill example of your pastor, whose life counter-preaches his doctrine, for that shall aggravate his, but not excuse your sin; nor the influence of stars, or such a working of a necessary and inevitable and unconditioned decrees of God as may obstruct a religious walking in this life, or a happy resting in the life to come.  It is none of these, not the sin of your Father, not the sin of the present times, not the sin of your years and age nor of your calling, nor of the magistrate, nor of your pastor, nor of destiny, nor of decrees, but it is your sin, your own sin.

What is sin?  What are the sins we commit? How do we try to excuse our sin?

John Donne (1571 -1631) was an unsuccessful lawyer who was urged to seek ordination by the king and was made dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Although he is better known today for his poetry, his sermons, prayers, and meditations are among the great monuments of the English language.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Today is Ash Wednesday - the beginning of Lent.  As a part of the services today the priest says:

"I invite you therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination an drepentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and mediation on God's holy Word.  And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer."

Repentance means to turn around - it is easy for us to follow things that catch our attention or that seem important and to suddenly realize that we have gone far from the place (or the person) we want to be.

We can use the days of Lent to stop, take a look around us, and decide if we are where and who we want to be and if not to repent, to turn around and to head back to where we really want to be.

"I invite you therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent,"

Monday, February 6, 2012

What were you expecting?

It's seemed like the every conversation the last few weeks has included the topic of the weather.  That is understandable - this is not what we expect for winter in Buffalo.

That got me thinking about expectations - what we expect, and how we react when things are different from our expectations. 

And that got me thinking about what we expect from God.  How do we expect God to act.  How do we expect God to enter our lives - and what happens when God acts differently then we expect - do we even notice?

Just food for thought as we wonder where the snow is this year.