A Note from the Rector for 1/13/2019

We are preparing to elect four new members to our vestry next Sunday at our Parish Meeting.  I am so grateful to our current vestry, its outgoing members, and to our new nominees.  Serving on the vestry is a large commitment of time, but it is so very important to the life of this parish.  The current vestry and I recently completed something called a Mutual Ministry Review. You’ll be hearing more about that, but it just serves to highlight that ministry—service to God and others—really is mutual.  The vestry and rector TOGETHER serve as the leadership of this parish.  The vestry system is unique to the American branch of the Anglican Communion (The Episcopal Church).  During our colonial period, the Church of England operated in the American colonies under the direct authority of the Bishop of London.  There were no bishops on American soil until after the American Revolution.  There were also no seminaries, and the colonies eventually experienced a dire clergy shortage.  The vestry system developed out of this necessity.  In order for parishes to survive, they needed to have strong lay leadership.  Especially in colonies like Virginia where the Church of England was the Established Church, parishes were not just church communities, they functioned as geographical entities (similar to the old system of counties and parishes in England).  The parish vestries that developed, then, did not just administer the temporal affairs of the parish church, but also, in many cases, served as civil administrators of the entire geographical parish.  From this history, our contemporary vestry system has developed.  Unique in Anglicanism (and also to Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and many “Mainline” denominations), a vestry in the Episcopal church is tasked with hiring a rector in consultation with the bishop.

Vestries are a testament to a fact just as true today as it was in colonial America, and indeed everywhere at every time: the church’s backbone is strong lay leadership.  The New Testament puts this in theological terms.  All baptized Christians are called to be the “priesthood of all believers” (1 Peter 2:5).  We are all ministers of the Gospel and essential parts of the Body of Christ, the Church.  Our role as priests, under Jesus the Great High Priest (Hebrews 7), is to pray for and bless this world, and by our lives to bring this world closer to God’s Kingdom.  That’s the cosmic picture.  The local picture seems more mundane.   Don’t be fooled.  It is just as profound, essential, and beautiful—committed, loving members of this local congregation quietly doing God’s work day in and day out.  I am so grateful.

James+

A Note from the Rector for 1/6/2019

You will notice a couple of weird additions to our normal liturgy this week.  Before our service of Holy Eucharist begins Sunday morning, we will gather on the steps outside the front door (as I write this on Thursday I am hoping for tolerable weather on Sunday morning).  There, we will bless a bunch of chalk, and I will use a piece of it to inscribe a set of mysterious letters and numbers above the door of our beloved church (don’t worry, it can be washed off).  Here is the inscription:

20+C+M+B+19

The crosses—just like the sign of the cross we make during the liturgy and just like the cross I like to write after my name—are meant to be a visual symbol of blessing, a reminder and a claiming for one’s own of the blessing afforded to us by the passion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The 20 and the 19 together stand for the year.  The C, M, and B have a double meaning.  They are the initials of Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, which according to tradition are the names of the three Magi whose visit to the Christ child in Bethlehem we celebrate in today’s Gospel passage.  The letters also stand for the Latin phrase, Christus Mansionem Benedicat, which means “May Christ Bless this House.”  Everyone will be invited to take a piece of blessed chalk home with instructions to mark their own doors.

The other unusual piece of our liturgy is found right before the sermon.  I will solemnly read the Epiphany Proclamation, which informs the congregation of the most important dates of the upcoming year.  This tradition arose because, unlike fixed holy days like Christmas, there are holy days that are movable as they are ultimately tied to the Jewish lunar calendar instead of our solar calendar.  Easter is the preeminent of these holy days.  Once the date of Easter is determined, the date of other movable holy days can be determined.  Before the prevalence of printed calendars (or google), the average person was not equipped to accurately calculate the date of Easter.  So, every year on Epiphany the date of Easter and all the other movable holy days were announced in each local parish.

Finally, you’ll notice on the front of today’s service leaflet, we have printed Sunday’s date in what might seem like a comically formal and overwrought fashion, using the phrase “in the year of our Lord.”  This way of writing the date comes from the early middle ages, when Pope Gregory the Great had the old Roman calendar re-tooled, so that it began the year that Christ was born (or as close to that year as the scholars of the time could manage).  Every year after Christ’s birth is marked as A.D. (for Anno Domini which is Latin for “in the year of our Lord.”)  All the years of recorded history before Christ’s birth, in our calendar, step reverently backwards from the year of the Incarnation.

There is a method to this madness, and it’s not just because I love the antiquarian and obscure.  What we are about, as weird as it may seem, is very serious.  These traditions are about marking out places and times as being sacred, holy, set apart.  They are about making time and space sacred again.

Our society runs on the mechanization and the routinization of time and place.  Our watches our synchronized.  Our calendars are fixed and full.  Every minute is accounted for and most of those minutes are monetized.  Time is money.  Our public places are uniform, mass-produced, and streamlined for efficiency.  Perhaps some of this is necessary for the ways that we provide for ourselves.  But it has the effect of tricking us to think that our mediated experience of time and space is the only reality there is.  It shapes our hearts and imaginations away from sacred time and space.  Liturgy—what we do on Sunday morning and beyond—along with all the strange little traditions that Christians have developed over the last two millennia are meant to remind us of a different reality; to make us see how things actually are.  All places are sacred, though some have been desecrated.  This is because the entire universe and all that is in it finds its ultimate source in God’s creative act.  All time is ordained by God.  What’s more, God in Christ has entered into human history in a personal, embodied way.  Jesus’ birth two-thousand and nineteen (or so) years ago changed everything.  Christ’s life, death and resurrection continue to reverberate throughout history, both forward and backward.  By his saving grace, everything changes; everything is made new.  That is the Good News of God’s reality.  As we embark on this year of our Lord 2019, we need every reminder of this ultimate truth and deeper reality that we can muster.  Let this sacred place be a sign to others that all places are holy; that God’s presence is available everywhere.  Let our weird little celebrations of the Church’s year be signs to everyone who knows us that Jesus is real in our lives and that his presence makes all the difference in the world.

James+

A Note from the Rector for 12/30/2018

In my Christmas Eve sermon, I referenced the great Scottish Victorian author and Congregationalist minister, George MacDonald.  I thought I would use this space to recommend his work to you if you haven’t already discovered it. Having grown up in a religiously eclectic household with some ties to the Scottish Episcopal Church, MacDonald was ordained a Congregationalist minister.  The people of his first church found his sermons to be too focused on God’s universal love for all, a message that seemed to be at odds with the austere Calvinism of Scottish Protestantism in the 19th century.  His salary was reduced by half.  He continued to preach what he believed regardless.  Later, after a bout of poor health, and some travel, he began writing in earnest, and was soon making a living for his large family through his writing.

He wrote dozens of novels, short stories, books of poetry, and non-fictions titles, including several collections of sermons.  He is most known for his fairy stories, and stories that today would be categorized as science fiction or fantasy, books such as The Princess and the Goblin, Phantastes, and Lilith, and fairy tales such as “The Light Princess”, and “The Golden Key.”  He also wrote a number of realistic novels, many of which deal with issues of faith.  The quote that I used in my sermon (printed below) was from one of these called, Adela Cathcart.  Concerning his audience, MacDonald wrote, “I write, not for children, but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.”

MacDonald was a very strong influence on a whole gaggle of mid-20th century writers that I admire including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, W.H. Auden, Madeline L’Engle and G.K. Chesterton.  During his life he was also friends with Mark Twain and counted Charles Dodgson (real name of Lewis Carrol, author of Alice in Wonderland) as one of his proteges.

An excellent and recent book about George MacDonald and his work, from which I have drawn much of this information, including the quote below, is: George MacDonald and the Age of Miracles by Timothy Larsen (IVP Academic, 2018).

“It is as if God spoke to each of us according to our need: my son, my daughter, you are growing old and cunning; you must grow a child again, with my Son, this blessed birth-time.  You are growing old and selfish; you must become a child.  You are growing old and careful; you must become a child.  You are growing old and distrustful; you must become a child.  You are growing old and petty; and weak, and foolish; you must become a child—my child, like the baby there, that strong sunrise of faith and hope and love, lying in his mother’s arms in the stable.”

Merry Christmas!

James+

A Note from the Rector for 12/23/2018

At the end of this Advent season, it is appropriate to spend some time thinking about Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  She has always been revered by Christians, and rightly so.  She is given the title, Theotokos, which means God-Bearer.  She bore God in her very body.  In casting about for ways of describing—if not totally understanding—how this could be, some of the earliest Christians found images from the Hebrew Scripture (what Christians sometimes call the Old Testament) to use as poetic witnesses to the true mystery of Mary.

In Exodus chapter 3, Moses comes across a bush on Mt. Horeb (a lot of important stuff happens on Mt. Horeb).  The bush is on fire, and yet, as Moses watches, he realizes that it is not burning up.

Moses then hears a voice calling to him, “Do not come near!  Take off your sandals!  You are standing on holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).  Some ancient Christians speak of this as an image for Mary.  Mary is like the burning bush in that she was completely overtaken (overshadowed is the word in Luke 1) by the presence and the glory, and the mystery of God who became incarnate within her, and yet she remained undestroyed, unconsumed by the fire of God’s holiness.  She remained a person, just like us.

Another image is from one of the stories that we investigated in our Advent Soup Group a few weeks ago (thanks to everyone who was able to participate in that!).  Our study was about stones in the Bible.  The story in question, from Genesis chapter 28, is about Jacob who has to leave home fast after tricking his brother and father.  He stops for the night, and uses a stone as a pillow.  In the night he has a vision of a ladder between earth and heaven, and angels ascending and descending.  The LORD stands before Jacob and promises to be with him always.  When Jacob wakes up he realizes that he has found “a gate of heaven,” that is a place where the veil that separates the world we see from the divine reality is particularly thin.  Jacob raises his stone pillow as a memorial to this event, and he calls the place, Bethel, which means “the house of God.”

Severus, a 6th century bishop, relates this story to the mystery of Mary:

“If you want to know how [the miraculous birth of Jesus] happened, your investigations remain blocked by the seal of virginity, which this birth in no wise violated.  And that which is sealed is absolutely untouchable; it remains secret, and one cannot speak about it at all.  Someone then, struck by this prodigy, will cry out, like Jacob, “How awesome is this place!  This is the gate of heaven!” (Genesis 28:17).

In her extraordinary acceptance of God’s plan for her life, Mary literally became Bethel, the House of God.  She became a site where the divine, transcendent reality became manifest to us.  This divine reality has a name, because of Mary—Jesus, born as her son on a bleak winter’s night in an insignificant village in Palestine.  God.  What a wondrous mystery.

James+

 

 

 

A Note from the Rector for 12/16/2018

The December edition of Connect-by-night at Holy Apostles begins tonight.  I cannot think of a more beautiful expression of the Christmas spirit than welcoming those without a home into this building that represents for us our spiritual home during this time.  One thinks of Mary and Joseph, far from home and without a place to stay.  It is very true that when we welcome our sisters and brothers in the Connect-by-night program we are welcoming none other than Jesus Christ himself.

Our parish family is very generous.  Recently we have participated in two great programs: Treats for Troops in October/November, which collected items that were sent to overseas military service personnel.  And our current ongoing collection for Philabundance.  Both projects were led—and in the latter case initiated—by the children of our community.  This is the work of the Gospel, plain and simple

I am reminded of the great 4th century preacher and bishop of Constantinople, St. John of Chrysostom, who preached in one of the largest and most beautiful churches ever built, the Hagia Sophia.  Though his church building was beautifully painted and adorned with a wealth of beautiful and valuable objects, John Chrysostom was relentless in reminding his listeners of what was really important.  He preached eloquently about the need to take care of the poor.  He warns people about giving lavish gifts to beautify their place of worship without also giving lavishly to care for those in need. He recognizes the importance of beauty in worship.  He recognizes the importance of having a space that is dignified and gracious, and that lifts people out of their normal routines and turns their hearts in worship to God, but St. Chrysostom warns us never to lose sight of the fact that Christ himself comes to us in the form of those who are poor.  Christ comes to us as a pilgrim in search of shelter.  Will we not welcome him?

In this season, when we rightly adorn and decorate our homes and our church, when we rightly celebrate and enjoy the gifts of life together with our friends and family, we are very blessed indeed to have the opportunity to also partake in Connect-by-Night to remind us what is really important about this season.  In the words of St. Chrysostom, “Do not adorn the church and ignore the poor for they are the most precious temple of all.”

 

James+

A Note from the Rector for 12/9/2018

I am very happy on this day that our chief pastor, Bishop Daniel, is here with us to confirm eight very bright young people, and to receive one adult into the Episcopal Church.  Confirmation is the sacramental moment when a baptized person expresses “a mature commitment to Christ,” and receives “strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop” (BCP, p. 860).

Older children, youth or adults (as appropriate) who were baptized as infants or children are expected to be confirmed after a period of preparation.  This represents the choice of the person to take up for themselves the promises made for them by their parents and godparents at baptism.   Those who were baptized as adults, but who did not receive the laying on of hands by a bishop are expected to be confirmed.

Preparation for confirmation includes giving the candidate the information and tools necessary to discover the meaning of Christian commitment in their own lives.  This preparation includes instruction and reflection on Christian worship, faith, history, and practice with special attention given to the content of the baptismal covenant.

Confirmation or similar rites undertaken in other Christian traditions may be recognized as confirmation in the Episcopal Church.  If an adult has made a public affirmation of faith in another sacramental denomination (such as Roman Catholicism), they may be received by a bishop in the Episcopal church (see BCP pages 309-310).

If a confirmed member of the church has undergone a renewal of their faith, or if they have come back to the church after a time away, they are invited to reaffirm their faith (see BCP pages 309-310).

Baptism (not Confirmation) is the rite of full admission into the Church, the body of Christ.  If you are baptized, you are a Christian, and are invited by Christ to fully participate in the Church, the Church’s other sacraments, and into the Way of being a disciple of Jesus.  Confirmation, reception, and reaffirmation all occur in continuity with baptism, and with reference to the Baptismal Covenant (BCP, pp. 304-305).  In a very real sense, when you are confirmed, received, or make a reaffirmation, you are publicly expressing the fact that you understand, receive and sign-on to the Baptismal Covenant.

Please join me in congratulating those who are received and confirmed this day.  It is a special day for our parish.  Thanks be to God!

 

James+

A Note from the Rector for 12/2/2018

Advent is here.  Many of us prepare advent wreaths for our homes during this time.  An advent wreath can be as simple as 4 candles.  For the first week of Advent, from now until next Saturday, one candle is lit, and then another candle is lit for each of the remaining weeks.  In my family, we light the appropriate number of candles on the wreath during our evening meals together.  Below is a short service to pray when you light the wreath (adapted from the BCP pp. 109-111)

Leader Light and peace, in Jesus Christ our Lord

Everyone Thanks be to God.

A reading from Scripture

If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,” darkness is not dark to you, O Lord; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.

Leader                 Let us pray

Lighten our darkness, we beseech you, O Lord; and by your great mercy defund from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of your only Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Add the appropriate prayer for the week of Advent

First week of Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the

dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Second week of Advent

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy

Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Third week of Advent

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Fourth week of Advent

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Light the candle(s).

Everyone

O gracious light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!

Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of Life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.

The service may end with the “Our Father” and/or a grace for the meal.

James+

 

 

A Note from the Rector for 11/25/2018

Christ the King Sunday, also known as the Feast of Christ the King, is a really new thing in terms of liturgy.  It was instituted in the Roman Catholic Church in 1925. It became part of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). Based on the Roman Catholic Cycle of Readings for each Sunday, the RCL was created in the 1970s and 80s. It was adopted by many mainline protestant denominations, but not officially adopted by the Episcopal Church until 2006. (Before that we followed our own lectionary.)

Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time (Green), and the last Sunday of the church year. Next Sunday, December 2, is the First Sunday of Advent which marks the beginning of a new liturgical year, and a new year in the three year cycle of the lectionary. This new year is Year C, which focuses on the Gospel of Luke. So today we finish Year B, which as you know has been focused on the Gospel of Mark. Since there’s only 3 years in the cycle, and Year A is assigned to Matthew, the Gospel of John doesn’t have a year of its own, so it is interspersed into all three years of the cycle.

We are very happy to have one of our own parishioners, Jeremiah Mustered, preaching today to close out the liturgical year. Jeremiah recently completed a process of discernment for the priesthood in our parish. He has been accepted into the diocesan discernment process (the next step) and will be continuing on the long path toward ordination. Keep him in prayer!

 

James+

 

    

A Note from the Rector for 11/11/2018

This weekend is the 235th annual diocesan convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.  Though many of you will read this Sunday, I write this Friday morning, so the convention has not yet begun.  The major thing that will be discussed and decided at this convention, besides the budget, is the proposal to legally incorporate the diocese as a non-profit entity and establish, according to state law, a board of trustees to manage it.

By American standards, we are a very old diocese. Led by Bishop William White, we were organized in 1784 before there existed any of the current laws governing corporations, or non-profit entities (before there existed the Federal government of the United States, in fact).

If the resolution before diocesan convention is adopted, the board of trustees that will govern the incorporation of the diocese will consist of 13 members.  The bishop shall be the chairperson, and there will be three lay people appointed by the bishop, three clergy and six lay people elected by diocesan convention.  Everyone besides the bishop will serve three-year terms.  The extensive responsibility and power to manage and maintain the property and assets of the diocese will be consolidated in the board of trustees.  Currently, this power is vague and dispersed between the standing committee, diocesan council, and the bishop.  Those who argue for incorporation point out that the current system is confusing, ineffective, and has lent itself to lack of transparency in the past.  On the whole, for these reasons, I think that incorporation is a good thing.  However, I am concerned that we, the universal Church, as well as particular local embodiments of the church always remember that we are not simply a non-profit organization, nor are we primarily a business whose only concern is efficiency.  In theological terms, we are the Body of Christ, and that must be our first and foremost consideration when thinking about how we structure ourselves, even as we recognize that deliberate, transparent, and effective management of the Church’s temporal resources is absolutely necessary.

Beth Johnson, Marilyn Freeman and I are Church of the Holy Apostles’ delegates to diocesan convention.  Together, we will listen carefully and represent our beloved congregation to the best of our ability.

James +

 

 

A Note from the Rector for 11/4/2018

O Lord, you are my portion and my cup;

it is you who uphold my lot.

My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;

indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel;

my heart teaches me, night after night.

 

Psalm 16:5-7

 

Today begins our annual season of prayer and discernment about the ways God might be calling each of us to support what God is doing at Holy Apostles. This year’s theme is Heritage and Hope. I have written a letter to each household of Holy Apostles and have enclosed a pledge card in that letter with more information. Please look for your letter on the table outside the parish hall. Letters that haven’t been picked up this morning will be mailed this week.

Our ingathering of pledges will be Sunday, November 14. Our 10 a.m. service that day will be followed by a festive all-parish luncheon.

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