Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bible Challenge - Do not let your hearts be troubled

This week we have the end of the Gospel of John - basically the last 8 chapters of the Gospel of John are Jesus' death, resurrection and post resurrection appearances

A couple of things to note - while John tells the story of the last supper, it doesn't include the institution of communion - we don't have the "this is my body, this is my blood" scene - but we do have the washing of the disciples feet - for John that is the more important part of that story - that Jesus serves us and calls us to serve others.

Jesus tells his disciples over and over and over again that following him is the way to all that God has prepared for them and that he wants them to be one - to be united as they follow him.  If we love him we will keep his commandments he says - and the Spirit will be with us forever.

John also has quite a lot of post resurrection appearances - he appears first to Mary Magdalene then we have him appearing to the disciples (other than Thomas) then we have the doubting Thomas story then to the disciples while they were fishing and finally the note that there were lots more things - that if they were written down the world couldn't contain all the books.

One of the things that John is focused on is that Jesus' teachings didn't end with his death - that he continues to appear to his disciples and teach them what he wants - which raises the question - where do we see Jesus appearing to us today.

Come to church on December 18 from 5 - 6:30 pm to talk about the Gospels - come even if you can't come right at 5.

We are taking a short break in the Bible Challenge for the holidays - we will start again the week of January 5 with the minor prophets.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bible Challenge - In the Beginning was the Word

For this week's Bible Challenge we are starting the book of John -

Nearly everyone knows the first verse of John:  "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."  That should give a clue that this is not like the other Gospels.  And that is true.

John's Gospel was the last one written - it dates to about 100 AD - the others are earlier - between 75 and 90 AD.  John's Gospel also has a completely different purpose.  John is writing to a Greek community that already knew the story of Jesus and were devoting themselves to thinking about what the teachings of Jesus meant.  So John's Gospel is less about a chronological telling of the story of Jesus and more about showing the thread of Jesus' teachings.

The first 12 chapters of the book of John contain all of Jesus' public ministry - basically all of his life and teachings before the week of his death and resurrection.

The most famous part of the Gospel of John is probably John 3:16 - it is the best known distillation of who Jesus is and what his life and teachings mean - probably because it is the best "Christian sound bite"

If you combine it with the next verse it wraps all of Christianity up in one package:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Bible Challenge - You've heard this all before

This week we have the rest of the book of Luke for our challenge

If you've been in church at all this summer or fall then you have heard most of the book of Luke - it's what we've been reading in Church since last November.  The parts we've read this summer and fall make up the main thrust of Luke's Gospel.

The main point of Luke's Gospel is what today we would call social justice.  It boils down to the same things that the prophets of Israel were saying for years - God cares about the poor - he wants you to care about the poor too - and since you aren't caring about the poor, God is upset with you and you better repent.

Luke adds in much of the teachings of Jesus that are in Matthew and Mark too - but always with the twist to underline God's overwhelming concern for the poor and that if we are to be followers of Jesus we must care for the poor too.

Go back and read the crucifixion and resurrection story from Matthew and then read Luke's version - mark the similarities and the differences - it's very interesting.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bible Challenge - Three endings and a beginning

This week we have the end of the Gospel of Mark - or rather the ends of the Gospel of Mark.

Mark actually has three different endings - the oldest versions of the Gospel that we have end with verse 8 of Chapter 16 - that is with the disciples at the empty tomb and the words: "And they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid."

A few of the older manuscripts end with an addition to verse 8 of Chapter 16 which says "And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter.  And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation."

Still other manuscripts end with the rest of Chapter 16 - the appearance to Mary Magdalene and two disciples and Jesus' commission and ascension.

The thoughts of most scholars is that the book originally ended with "they were afraid" but fairly quickly it became clear that people needed more hope - so they added the short ending and then over time some stories of post-resurrection events from other stories of Jesus.  Mark's main points - that God calls us to love and serve others and to share God's love even in the midst of persecution - didn't require a post-resurrection commission - but as time went on the first generations of Christians needed more, so more got added.

We also have the beginning of the Gospel of Luke - Luke is writing to non-Jewish believers in Jesus and he tells a lot of the story - but compare Luke's birth narrative to Matthew's and notice the differences.  There are no wisemen in Luke's story and we have the story of Jesus' presentation in the temple and a lot more about John the Baptist.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bible Challenge - most of Mark

For this week's Bible Challenge we have most of the Gospel of Mark - the first 12 chapters.

A couple of things to notice about the Gospel of Mark - first of all there is no Nativity story in Mark - he doesn't think how Jesus was born was important - Mark jumps right in with John the Baptist, Jesus' Baptism and the temptation in the wilderness - but even those stories are prelude to what is important to Mark, the works and teaching of Jesus.

So in these chapters we see Jesus healing and preaching and teaching - the Jesus we see in Mark has three major points:
1. God means it when he says love your neighbor as yourself - these things that distract you are getting in the way
2. Get out there and tell people that God loves them and wants them to love others i.e. stop hiding you lamp under a bushel
3. And oh, by the way, don't expect it to be easy, expect to be persecuted and for people to be mad at you - keep watching God is coming

Mark races through Jesus' life and ministry and keeps coming back to these points - not a bad summery of the Gospel actually.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bible Challenge - Who do you say that I am - What are we supposed to do

We have the second half of the book of Matthew in this week's Gospel.  The first part of this week was parables:

The Parable of the Sower, of the Weeds among the wheat of the mustard seed of the yeast and three more parables - The point of these parables is to teach the disciples (and us) about God and God's kingdom.  The major points seem to be that God uses even the smallest things and that we are to keep working to bring about the will of God even when we don't see much in the ways of results.

Then the story takes a turn for the dark - Jesus is rejected by his home town and John the Baptist is put to death - keep going even when things seem bad?

The 5,000 are fed, Jesus walks on water and heals the sick and this still isn't enough for the Pharisees - so Jesus lashes out at them.

Peter finally comes to the point - Jesus asks who they think he is and Peter says, "The Christ, the Son of the Living God"  - Peter gets it right sometimes.

From here to the end the story gathers steam - Jesus spends a lot of time teaching the people that God really has two requirements - love God and love neighbor and all the rest is getting in the way - this doesn't make the religious leaders happy and so Jesus is arrested and executed.

Look at the verses at the very end of Matthew - these are known as the Great Commission and they sum up what it is that Jesus asks of his disciples and what he asks of us:  "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember that I am with you always, to the end of the age."

That sums it up - Jesus is with us - so we are to go and teach and obey.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bible Challenge - Section Two - The Gospels

We are beginning the second section of the Bible Challenge - in this section we read the four Gospels - the books that tell us the story of the life and teachings of Jesus.

We start with the Gospel of Matthew.

A few points about the Gospels - they are not first person stories.  They were written between 65 and 100 AD, so between 35 and 70 years after the death of Jesus.  None of them were written by disciples of Jesus - they were all written by students of the disciples.

The first generation of Christians believed that Jesus was returning soon and that their most important task was to tell the story of Jesus to as many people as possible and get as many people to believe as possible before Jesus returned.  It's only after the first generation of Christians begins to die that they begin to think that maybe Jesus isn't coming back as soon as they thought and that it was important to write down those stories.  Between about 65 and about 110 AD there were somewhere around 20 different Gospels circulating among the Christian communities.  In the 300's when the Bible as we know it was being developed the councils decided that there were four that should be included - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Each of the four Gospels are written for different audiences and with different purposes.  Matthew was written to the community of Jewish followers of Jesus and one of it's principle purposes was to show how Jesus and his teachings were a continuation of the story of the people of Israel.

Matthew starts with a genealogy - setting Jesus in the context of the history of the people of Israel.  It also gives a story of Jesus' birth that connects him to the house of David - but also demonstrates that he will draw those outside of the Israel as well.  The story moves quickly to the point - Jesus has come to fulfill the law and the way that the law is fulfilled in in the Great Commandment - Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bible Challenge - Establishing a nation

We have the entire book of Deuteronomy this week.  The book of Deuteronomy is really about two things:

1. The refusal of the people of Israel to trust God when they get to the verge of the Promised land, and God having them wander in the wilderness for 40 years as a result
2. The laws and regulations for the nation that will be established when they come back to the Promised land and enter it.

God has led the people the verge of the land he had promised to give them, but they resist going in and claiming it - they aren't ready.  So God leads them into the wilderness and spends a long time teaching them to trust him and establishing what the structure and rule of the society that will establish will be.

In other words, God realizes that they need to be formed to be his people before they can establish a nation - so he teaches them.

I find that it often that way with me - I often need more formation before I'm ready to follow where God is leading me.

Have that every happened with you?  Has God ever brought you to the brink of something, but you weren't ready, so God led you away only to eventually lead you back?

This brings us to the end of Section 1 - the Torah.  The gathering to discuss these books will be next Wednesday from 5 to 6:30 pm.  If you can't get there until 5:30 - that's okay come along and join in.

Next week we start reading the Gospels - beginning with Matthew.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bible Challenge - On the way to the Promised Land

The section that we have from the book of Numbers is basically the journey of the people of Israel from Mount Sinai.

This is before the 40 years in the wilderness.

I don't know if you noticed but the people of Israel seem to complain a lot.  God is providing for them, but they want meat - so they complain.  Aaron and Miriam are jealous of Moses, so they complain.  Moses is fed up with the complaining so he disobeys God and strikes a rock in anger rather than speaking to it.

I've been thinking about this.  God is giving the people what is best for them.  He is leading them to freedom and a land that will be fertile for them. They are heading to a place where they can establish their families and their nation - and yet, they seem to be dragging their heals and complaining the whole way.

I suspect this comes from two sources.  The first is that a new land means new ways and new things and that means change and human beings resist change instinctively.  The second is that getting to the good things requires some effort, they have to travel, they have to scope out the land, they have to fight some wars. If we are really honest, we would rather have the good things handed to us without having to do any work for them.

So - what is the promised land that God is leading us to?  What are we complaining about along the way?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bible Challenge - Holiness in all things

This weeks Bible challenge readings start with God striking dead Aaron's sons for offering incense other than in the way that God commanded.  It moves on to a whole bunch of rules about what the people of Israel can and can't eat - that form the basis of the Kosher dietary laws that are still used today.  It goes from there to lots of rules about dealing with leprousy.  And then a whole bunch of rules about not mixing unlike things (crops, fibers etc).

We move into the book of Numbers and get the duties of priests and redeeming a first born son and then dividing up of lands.

Most of these chapters will engender one of two reactions - 1. Yuck!! 2. Huh??.  Most of these chapters recount a God that seems very different than the God that we know or rules and practices that make no sense to us today.

One of the things that reading the Old Testament reminds me of is how far God has moved his people over thousands of years.  The point of most of these chapters was to outline for the people of Israel what it meant to be God's people - how to be holy (which means set apart for God) and how important it was to be holy.

You see, we don't remember how radical the rules of the God of Israel were for their time.  This was an era when most God's demanded human sacrifice for most sins and that the standard response to injury by others was to destroy your enemies and their children and their livestock and everything they owned.

God was moving the people of Israel away from that - a few steps on the road that leads to Jesus and love your neighbor as yourself - but they couldn't go all the way down that road at the time of Leviticus.  The thing that is most important to God is that his people are different, and even more importantly are seen to be different.  So holiness in all things - even the minor things of life - is the goal and because this is a time of communal life - having unholiness in the community undermines that - so there are strict rules about excluding the unholy from the community.

What would it look like if we strove for our whole lives and everything we did to be set apart for God?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bible Challenge - Week Four

Welcome to week four of the St. Paul's Bible Challenge

This week we are reading the end of the book of Exodus and the beginning of the book of Leviticus

The end of the book of Exodus is a weird combination of instructions and regulations and the people of Israel messing up.

Much of the section of Exodus (and all of the sections of Leviticus we have this week) are instructions of how to build the tabernacle of the Lord and what the offerings are to be made of and how they are to be done.

But, in the middle of the rules and diagrams, we have the people of Israel.  Moses goes up on the mountain to get God's commandments for the people and in the short time he is gone the people of Israel give up - they ask Aaron to make them an idol - and the part that still gets me - Aaron does.

They worship the idol and have a large party or a small orgy - it's hard to tell from the Hebrew.

That however sets the stage for one of my favorite conversations with God - God says to Moses, "Your people are messing up - go and fix it"  Up to this point they have been God's people - but now suddenly they are Moses' people.

It makes God sound like an exasperated parent - you know - "Your son crashed the car".  I love those places in Scripture where God sounds like a fed up human - it reminds me that God - while being all powerful and all knowing and all everything - can also be fed up.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Bible Challenge - the Ten Commandments

Bible Challenge Week Three

We are reading the first 24 chapters of the book of Exodus this week.

If you have seen the movie the Ten Commandments, you basically have the story that we are reading this week.

We start with the people of Israel kept as slaves in Egypt - they call to the Lord and the Lord, eventually, finds Moses.

Moses is the least likely champion of the people of Israel that any one could think of.  While he was a member of the tribe of Levi, he had not been raised among the people of Israel - he had really been raised as an Egyptian noble and he had fled from Egypt to avoid the consequences of a murder that he committed.

There are lots of things in this story - but I want to highlight two:

First - at the meeting of Moses with God in the burning bush, Moses asks who God is and God says, what get translated into English as "I am that I am".  Hebrew verb tenses are much more fluid than English ones - so this could as easily be translated  "I am that I was" or "I was that which I will become" or "I am becoming that which I am".  In other words - our God is not defined by time or space.

Second - when you see Christian depictions of the 10 commandments, they usually have 5 on one tablet and 5 on the other.  When you see Jewish depictions of the 10 commandments they have four on one tablet and six on the other.  That is because the first four commandments are about our relationship with God.  The last six are about our relationships with each other.

What do you think?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bible Challenge Week Two - Jacob and Jospeh

Welcome to Bible Challenge Week Two.

We have the end of the book of Genesis this week - it's basically the stories of Jacob (aka Israel) and Joseph.

This is the beginning of the nation of Israel - Jacob gets his name changed to Israel - which means one strives with God.  In Hebrew the word "el" means god, so any name that ends in "el" is something of or with God.  Jacob (or Israel) has 12 sons and these sons are the founders of the 12 tribes - that is the nation - of Israel.

Our God gives the name of his people - and thus his own name because he becomes known as the God of Israel - "one who strives or wrestles with God"

And the rest of the story of the people of Israel really is the story of people and a people who wrestle with God - they draw near, struggle, pull away and come back.  It's kind of our story too, we all wrestle with God at some points in our lives.

The other point of the story of Jacob is that God can use anyone.  Jacob is not a nice man, he isn't a role model.  He's a trickster and a liar and a coward - and even so God uses him to found the nation of his people.  God doesn't need for us to be good in order to be used for his will.

Then we have the story of Joseph and his brothers.  Joseph is, not to put to fine a point on it, a spoiled brat, and his brothers are really pretty nasty too - and yet God manages to turn a real family tragedy into a vehicle to save his nation.  God certainly didn't intend the behavior of either Joseph or his brothers or Potipher's wife, come to that, but God manages to work his will in spite of all of them.  And maybe that is another part of the message - that God can work his will through us in spite of us.

What do you think?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bible Challenge Week One - God in the World

Welcome to week one of the St. Paul's Bible Challenge.  We have started out reading the Torah - the first five books of the Christian Bible - this is what Jesus, and Paul, were referring to when they say, "Scripture says ..."

This week we have the first 24 chapters of the book of Genesis.

These chapters have a lot of the stories that we know:  The creation stories (yes there are two), Noah's Ark, Abraham and Sarah, Ishmael, the sacrifice of Isaac and Rebecca at the well.  There are also some of the stories that we don't hear very often (like Noah after he leaves the ark).

As I think about this section of Scripture, it seems to me that one of the overarching themes of this section is that God has called the world into being and has begun calling human beings into relationship with himself.

We begin with God literally speaking the world into being and it is good.  Then God begins attempting to build relationships with him.  We see that in story of Adam and Eve, of Noah and of Abraham.  God calls human beings into relationship with him - it basically involves letting him be our God.

These stories show that from the beginning God has sought to be in relationship with human beings and that we have mostly not succeeded very well in responding to God's call to relationship.  We mostly fail to let God be our God - but we try to respond to God's call.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Things are starting up

I can't believe that summer is almost over - but there is no denying it.

The calendars change to September on Sunday and school starts next week.

The collected school supplies are on their way to students at School 6 - which is also Buffalo Elementary School of Technology.  Gifts are heading towards the teachers at School 6 and Harris Hill Elementary and the days are getting shorter.

That means that it's time for programs to begin again at church and we have lots of new things.

We will be kicking off Sunday School on September 8 and 10 a.m.  But this year we are asking you to bring not only your backpacks, but your tablets, cell phones and anything else that helps you learn, connect and communicate.  We will be blessing all of it - and inviting you to tweet your hopes for the year at #blesstech

The youth group heads to Darian Lake after the service - but this year with the youth from St. Martin's Church on Grand Island.  We will be travelling to England with them next summer.

Bible Study starts on Monday the 9th at 10:15 am  - this year we are adding a Bible Challenge - a weekly set of readings that will take us through half the Bible this year.

And - of course - there are the changes around the church - we have a new roof, and new siding and new windows and a new door at the Parish Hall and new signs.  The church has a new ceiling and new paint and new carpeting are coming.  We are looking forward to completing that project by the end of September.

Come and see and be a part of all of the new things that are going on at St. Paul's

Monday, June 3, 2013

Saying (and giving) thanks

One of the great things about this time of year is that it's the time that we say "thank you" to people.  We have Sunday School recognition and we say thank you to the teachers for their time and talent and to the children for coming.

On Pentecost we award the Spirit of St. Paul's awards and say thank you to people who do things that we often take for granted.

This year we are saying special thank you's to Pam Hinds, Jill Cory and Evelyn Parmley who are retiring from some ministries after many years.

It reminds me of how many, many people there are to say thank you to at St. Paul's - so many people give of their time and talent in so many ways - and that's what makes St. Paul's special.  And it is so easy to take for granted.

So - I want to say thank you to all of you - for all that you are and for all that you share.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Remember the Mustard Seed

Last spring the Diocese of Western New York gave each Deanery a mustard seed in the form of $250.  We were told to take the money, do something that would make the world better and report back to Convention in October.

As you may remember our deanery (Eastern Erie) and the Northern Erie Deanery decided to work together and that the way we were going to make the world better was to try to spread the word that, contrary to what people might have heard, God Loves Us, no exceptions.

We put up a blog with a variety of resources and people telling the stories about how they came to believe that God loved them and that God loved everyone - no exceptions.

Here's the blog.  We sent out 1,000 postcards to tell people about the blog.  We printed some banners to use at events, parades etc... and, oh yes, we started a facebook page.  Here's the facebook page.
We spent about $100 on facebook advertising.

We were hoping that people might notice, but more importantly that people would begin to believe that God loved them - no excpetions.

Well here's an update.  The facebook page has gone viral.

In the week of March 28 to April 3 - the facebook page had a reach of 15,795,050.  Yes you read that right over 15 million people were reached.  And 22,005 were "talking about this"  that is facebook speak for engaging the content - reposting it, commenting on it etc...

This week March 30 to April 5 - the reach is down a little to 13,386,832 - still not bad - over 13 million people.  But the exciting thing is the "talking about this" figure.  562,688 people were engaging with the content this week.  That's right over half a million people. 

To give you a comparison - in 2011 the Average Sunday Attendance of the Episcopal Church - that is every church in The Episcopal Church in the United States, the American Churches in Europe, Haiti, Venezuela etc... was 698,376. 

Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."  Matthew 13:31-32

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Flunking Sainthood - Hospitality and Vegetarianism

It struck me this week how much of many of these spiritual disciplines involve paying attention to the people and things around you.

This week for example - the core of the discipline of hospitality is thinking about your guest and what will make your guest feel like they belong in your home, or your club or your church.  That is the basic definition of hospitality - making the guest feel at home - like they belong here.

The second chapter this week seems to me to revolve around thinking about where our food comes from - what impact are we having on ourselves and on the world around us by eating in the ways that we eat.

I wonder what it would be like if we tried to pay attention to the impact that we are having on the people and the world around us all the time - would we make different choices - would it draw us closer to God or to each other?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Flunking Sainthood - Sabbath and Gratitude

The conversations about Sabbath keeping and what a Sabbath is and how we might keep the Sabbath in our world today have been really interesting.  But I've been pondering this week the concept of Thanksgiving.

It's easy for me to make a long list of things that I'm thankful for.  It's harder to take the time to remember to make the list - but that's another story.  But as I look at the list of things I'm thankful for they are all good things.  I can imagine you saying - well of course- what else would you be thankful for.

But I've been thinking about St. Paul's direction to Christians - "rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances"

It's that giving thanks in all circumstances that I've been thinking about.  How do we, how do I give thanks for things I don't like and didn't want.  How do I give thanks for the bad things?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Flunking Sainthood - week 3

I've been thinking about the boundary between needs and wants - and when it is that things make the jump from one to the other.

We can all agree on the basics - I think - food, shelter, water, clothing.  Those are all needs for everybody at all times and in all places.

But it gets more difficult as we think about specific cases.  For example, it would be hard to argue that some kind of a telephone is not a need in 21st century America.  While a car may not be a need in New York City or Chicago - it kind of is in Clarence.  I guess it's technically possible to get around without one - but it's so difficult as to be unrealistic.

So what about voicemail? a computer? a t.v.? a radio?  Which of those things are now, in effect needs?  When does something make the jump from a want to a need?  What are the criteria?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Flunking Sainthood - Week 2

The two chapters we were looking at this week were Finding God in Daily Things and Lectio Divina.

The first practice is centered around doing everything that you can with the intention of finding God in it.  Find God in making dinner, find God in baking bread, find God in making the beds, find God in hanging out the wash.  You get the idea.  Pay attention to what you are doing and do everything to the glory of God.

The second practice is the reading of the Bible as prayer itself.  Done intentionally over time it is possible to pray a small passage of scripture for a long time.  We don't read like this too much any more- but with practice it can open whole new meanings from even familiar passages.

One of the things that struck me this week is that these - and all the other spiritual practices - seem to be perfectly designed to help people find God in the midst of life as it was lived for most of human history up to about 70 years ago.

Most people spent most of their time on the daily tasks of making food and clothing and shelter and getting fuel to make food and clothing and shelter.  For most people, even today for most people on earth, life has limited choices, the same tasks every day, and lived close to the edge of not having enough.  In those circumstances the "traditional" spiritual disciplines serve to use the reality of daily life as a way to draw us closer to God.  In a way they point to the presence of God in the midst of daily life.

For most of us that is no longer what life is like.  Our lives are composed of abundance, endless choices, global connectedness and the constant presence of others either virtually or in reality or both.  What would spiritual practices would point the way to the presence of God in the midst of our daily life.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Flunking Sainthood - part one

Along with the rest of the Diocese of Western New York, St. Paul's is reading Flunking Sainthood by Jana Reiss.

The book is the memior of the journey of the author as she tries a different spiritual practice each month.

The first chapter lays out the premise - that a different practice will be tried each month, that she will look at some of the writing about that practice and that she will blog about it.

I was really struck by her reflection on the scene from Exodus where the people of Israel are given the 10 commandments and reply "All that you have said we will do and hear" and that through the centuries the rabbis have taught that we can't really hear God until we have tried to do what God calls us to.

I've been really reflecting on that - words take on more and deeper meanings where there is experiance that connects with them.  I can listen to someone talk about the Grand Canyon, for example, but having travelled down to the bottom myself, I hear the story differently.  It's one of the reasons I like our cycle of readings.  When the Gospel reading from three years ago comes up again, I hear it differently because I've had different experiances since I preached on it the last time.

The first month of her practice is February and she picks fasting. 

One of the things I remember being taught about fasting is that one of the original purposes of fasting in the Christian world was to try to live like the poor.  To eat what the poor ate.  That got me thinking about what the poor eat in our world.  It isn't fish anymore, it certainly isn't vegetables, at any rate fresh vegetables.  Actually the poor in our world tend to eat canned and processed food because it's what available and what they can afford.  

I wonder what a fast would be like if we tried to eat like the poor today.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ashes to Go

This is the Rev. Sare Anuszkiewicz and I out in front of the church yesterday during our Ashes to Go.

We had 70 people drive in for ashes.  A few were our own parishioners who couldn't make it to church but more than 60 were people who weren't a part of St. Paul's.  We prayed with them, imposed ashes and gave them our Lent brochure and some prayers they could say at home.

My favorite story was the mother who pulled in with her teenage daughter, then about an hour later came back with her 4 or 5 year old.  They had gotten home and the little girl was upset that she didn't have ashes too. 

I think next year we will add morning hours as well - one of the things I learned is that I need a couple of people to help direct traffic, greet people and hand out the prayers.  So look for your chance to help next year.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lent is coming

Lent is a time of preparation for Easter.  For more than 1,000 years Christians have spent the six weeks before Easter in special study, prayer and fasting in order to be prepared for the most holy day of the Church Year – Easter Day.

Ash Wednesday

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday – this year Ash Wednesday is February 13.  On Ash Wednesday we impose ashes – made from blessed palms on the forehead as a reminder that we are all mortal and that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  We will have two services on Ash Wednesday.  One at Noon and one at 7 p.m.    We will also be participating in “Ashes to Go” this year.  If you wish to receive Ashes but don’t have time for a full service – Ashes will be available from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the kitchen door – just drive around the back of the church.

 Giving Something Up

Giving something up for Lent is a traditional type of fast.  People usually pick something that is an extra and give it up for the 40 days of Lent.   Often giving up an extra is accompanied by giving the money that would have been spent on that item to charity.  Sundays are feast days and not part of the season of Lent so many people do not fast on Sunday.  Some common things that people give up are: chocolate, ice cream, red meat, alcohol and eating out.

Daily Prayers

Many people add daily prayers to their schedule during Lent.  Prayers can be added at the beginning of the day, at noon, in the early evening or at the end of the day or any of the above.  There are short prayer services in the Book of Common Prayer. At the web-site you can find some prayer services that can be down loaded to an e-reader.  If you want some brief reflections for each day pick up a Forward Day by Day booklet from the back of the church, the rack across from the ladies room or the shelf in the office.


Many people take on some kind of study during Lent.  This Lent we are reading the book Flunking Sainthood by Jena Reiss.  It’s the story of her attempt to try a different spiritual practice every month for a year and how she did with it. The book is available for $10.  Let Pastor Vicki know if you want one. We are gathering to study the book at two different times:  Sunday mornings from 9:15 – 9:45 February 17 – March 17

Wednesday evenings from 6:45 – 7:15 – February 20 – March 20. Evening prayer will be said in the church from 6:30 – 6:45 on  those Wednesdays

Quiet Morning

We will also have a Lent Quiet morning on Saturday February 16 from 9:30 – Noon.   The morning will be made up of several different kinds of prayer and spiritual practices.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ashes to Go

I have to say that I am very pleased with the front page coverage that Ashes to Go got in this morning's Buffalo News.

Here's the link if you haven't seen it.

Ashes to Go

One of the things that I love about Ashes to Go is that it is the Church responding with what we do best - pointing the way to the Holy in our daily lives - and at the same time adapting it to what our daily lives look like in 2013. 

The best part about this is that it is a perfect example of "both and" or parallel development.

We are continuing to offer the regular Ash Wedensday liturgy at noon and 7 p.m. for those of us who want the Eucharist and the full experiance of taking real time for prayer and contemplation.  And we are offering Ashes for those who want to respond to the Holy but who can't or won't come to a full service. 

This is what we are talking about when we talk about reaching out in new ways to new groups of people.  We have to keep doing what we do that feeds those of us who are here now and we also need to find new ways to point to God in the lives of people who need something different.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Jacob, Laban, Esau and God

We pick up the story with Jacob deciding that he is ready to leave his father-in-law and go back to his own land.  But Laban convinces him to stay and cuts a deal with him to divide the flocks based on whether they are speckled or not and the lambs based on whether they are black or white. 

Laban attempts to trick Jacob and Jacob attempts to trick Laban - these two seem to deserve each other.

After six years Jacob decides that he's leaving - so he sneaks out.  On their way out Rachel steals her father's household idols - in the parlance of the time stealing the blessing of his house.

Laban takes off after Jacob and catches him and gives him what for both for sneaking away and for taking his idols.  Jacob says - hey go ahead and search.  Laban searches but doesn't find the idols because Rachel is sitting on them and excuses herself from getting up by telling her father that it is that time of the month.

Laban and Jacob make peace and go their separate ways.  Jacob is now out of the Laban frying pan, but he has the fire of his brother Esau ahead of him.

He sends out a messanger who says that Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men.  Jacob figures he's in trouble.  So he divides his company in two so that at least one might have a chance to get away.  He sends out lots of livestock as a gift to his brother and waits.

We have a story added in there - that probably comes from an earlier source - where Jacob wrestles with a man who is either an angel or God - the man wins by putting Jacob's hip out of joint and gives him the name Israel - that literally means "contends with God"

In the morning Jacob finally meets his brother and they agree to live in peace.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Rachel and Leah

In this week's Bible study we get the story of Jacob finding his wives and starting his family.

Jacob has headed off to find his mother's brother and through him a wife.  Almost the first person he meets on his arrival is his cousin Rachel.  He negotiates with Laban to marry Rachel in exchange for seven years work.

However, on the wedding night Laban slips his older daughter, Leah, in to Jacob instead.  (side note - this story lives on in the tradition that a bride's veil is lifted before the exchange of vows - so that the groom can be sure he's got the right girl)  So Jacob works seven years more and ends up with both Rachel and Leah as his wives.

As might be expected, Jacob is much fonder of Rachel - God redresses the balance by ensuring that Leah has children - specifically 4 sons - Reuban, Simeon, Levi and Judah - you might find these names familiar.

Rachel takes a page from Sarah's book and sends her maid in to Jacob - Rachel's maid has 2 sons
Leah decides that two can play at that game, sends her own maid in to Jacob - Leah's maid also has 2 sons.

Then Leah has another two sons and a daughter.  If you are keeping track Jacob is now up to 10 sons.

Finally - as the text says - God remembered Rachel - and Rachel has a son who is named Joseph.  There is more of the domestic soap opera - but the story now takes a segue back to the relationship with Esau.  We will pick that up in two weeks - no Bible study next week because Monday is a holiday.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Welcome back to Bible Study

We pick up our study of Genesis after the holiday break.

Today we covered Chapters 27 and 28.

In these chapters we see the real beginnings of the Jacob narrative.

At the instigation of his mother, Rebecca, Jacob tricks his father, Isaac, into giving him his blessing.  His brother, Esau, is furious and decides to kill him - so Rebecca sends him off to her family to find a wife, and to get him out of range of his brother.

On his way to Rebecca's family Jacob has a dream and sees a ladder running from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it.  God reiterats to Jacob the promises he made to Abraham and Jacob names the place Bethel - that is House of God.  We will return to Bethel frequently in the story.