PastorJohn

PastorJohn

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Posts by PastorJohn

Festival of August 13th

This month, we celebrate a uniquely Moravian event as we gather for Holy Communion in Celebration of August 13th, the time in 1727 when a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit swept through the congregation at Berthelsdorf, Germany.  The experience was so profound that it was likened to the experience of the disciples at Pentecost, and it marked a new era of God’s work among the Moravians.

A lesser-known part of this experience was the Children’s Revival that followed.  A few days after the experience of forgiveness and reconciliation among the adults, a number of children at the village school felt called to prayer, and began to organize their own prayer groups.  The adults were so inspired by the spirit of the children that it reinforced their own experience and helped to drive the famed Prayer Watch that went on continuously for the next hundred years; and there is no doubt that it was out of the prayer and study that followed that the seeds of the mission movement came.

This month, we have the remarkable opportunity to have the Rev. Dr. Riddick Weber visit to lead two Sunday School workshops about the Moravian movement.  Brother Weber is professor of Pastoral Ministry at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, PA, and is one of our leading experts on the revolutionary social systems that Moravian communities engineered.  He can speak with great authority about the intriguing ideas that they employed that made those communities work and witness!  I hope that you will take the time to come out for these Sunday School workshops this month.  Brother Weber will also officiate over Communion on August 11th while I am away directing the next segment of the movie “But Now I See,” and will bring a meditation about the August 13th experience and its meaning for us today that is well-informed and inspiring.

Sunnyside Clinic Closes

“In the bulb there is a flower…in the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be.”  These words from the wonderful hymn by Natalie Sleeth capture well my feelings as we ushered out the last patitent at the last Sunnyside Medical Clinic on Thursday, June 20 – and then closed the doors.

The choir came down and together with the nurses and doctors and staff from Sunnyside Ministry we sang the Moravian blessing hymn, “With Thy Presence Lord, our head and Savior” as a way of recognizing the end of an era, and the close of a neighborhood institution.

The Sunnyside Medical Clinic has been providing free medical care twice a month for people in this area for thirty-three years.  The clinic began in 1980, using volunteer doctors and funding from the State Health Department to provide medical care for those who had no insurance and could not afford medical care through traditional institutions.  Over the years, the Clinic has served thousands of people, including many of our members.  But in recent years, attendance at our Clinic has dwindled – the opening of a new free clinic sponsored by Novant Health in Waughtown and another that is open twice a week at Southside Baptist siphoned off our “customers.”  We rejoice that their needs are being met, and pray that those clinics will be able to continue to provide care for this in need!  However, the dwindling numbers at Sunnyside Clinic and severe state budget cuts meant that the Health Department had to terminate funding for the program.

But as the song says, “In cocoons there is a promise, butterflies will soon be free!”  Time marches on, circumstances change, and this important ministry of our congregation became less important.  Rather than spending time mourning the changed circumstances, we should instead realize the blessing that someone else has picked up this particular torch.  We must ask the question, what is the NEXT good thing that we will do together?  What is the Savior leading us to do now with the freed resources and people of our congregation?  The needs in the world are daunting, there is never a shortage of things that ought to be done.  But as Moravians, we follow the Lamb who has conquered.  Where is He leading us?

Our Joint Board has already been discussing possibilities for dynamic new ministries that meet the needs of our changing neighborhood today.  As we respond to God’s call, we do so with the confidence that what we do in the name of the Savior will be blessed – and will bear fruit!

Winston-Salem Centennial

May marks the centennial of the legal joining of the towns of Salem and Winston in 1913. Our congregation was just a year old, Sunnyside still a bustling new suburb with Model T Fords chugging around the streets and the trolley car that ran up South Main Street was run by the Fries Manufacturing and Electric Company.

By this time, of course, “Salem” was the old town and “Winston” was the bubbling, exciting, center of business. So there is some justification in people talking about the joining of “Winston” and “Salem,” though I am sort of honor-bound to remind them that it was really the other way around, since Salem came first! Also, being a card-carrying member of the Language Police, I get a dour look whenever anyone discusses our minor league ball team, since the symbol joining the names is a hyphen, not a “dash.” And yes, there is a difference! Ask any English teacher or typesetter!

There will be a special Lovefeast celebrating the unification of the two towns into the city we know today on Mother’s Day, May 12, at 4:00 pm in May Dell the amphitheatre behind the Salem College Fine Arts Center. Special thanks to the Rt. Rev Graham Rights, who served on the planning committee, and David Shaffner and Robin Goslen, Head dieners of Home Moravian Church, for their organization of the serving of the lovefeast.

There are those who have complained to me that Moravians were not more acknowledged, or had more leadership in the planning of this centennial celebration. But just as my reminding folks that “Salem was first!” is kind of futile, this is a sort of complaint is a vain exercise on its own. As long as we “Followers of the Lamb” allow others to tell our story for us, we will be relegated to the past as a quaint footnote. Old Salem guides (unintentionally, I am sure) often leave visitors with the impression that Moravians have all died out, or that we still wear old-fashioned clothes like the Amish. Even our affiliated organizations seem as if they pay us an obligatory historical nod, but behave as if we are irrelevant today. The fact is, the City is not responsible for telling our story to outsiders, Old Salem is not responsible for telling our story to the world, Salem College and Salem Academy are not responsible for bearing the testimony of our faith to the young – WE are! We are responsible for our testimony – testimony that following the Lamb is a significant reality today, that living faithfully is something that we do now, that the community of faith is a living, viable, and significant part of life in the 21st century, not just an interesting historical footnote.

And, by the way – this sentence (and the last two) contained a real DASH. Winston-Salem is joined by a HYPHEN.

- Pastor John

Habemus Papum, and Quite a Pope at That!

Pope Francis Washes the Feet of Inmates at a Youth Detention Center in Rome. Image from Associated Press and Huffington Post.

Well, white smoke came out of the Vatican chimney, and the Roman Catholics have a new Pope — and an interesting one at that! Pope Francis I (formerly Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina) was elected on March 13th. He’s the first non-European Pope in centuries, he’s the first Jesuit Pope, and he has struck out on a new path by bringing his interest in simple living and advocacy for the poor into the Vatican. In his first days, he refused to wear the golden cross of his predecessors, preferring a simple iron cross, making his own phone calls, use public transportation instead of the “Popemobile,” and broke with tradition on Maundy Thursday by going to a prison and washing the feet of inmates. He chose the name of “Francis” to hold up the values of Saint Francis, who valued simplicity and service, honoring the poor, and respecting creation. Though there are those who criticize Archbishop Bergoglio for certain stances, we have to recognize how much of a transforming power he might be.

So what does all of this mean for Moravians? Nothing, directly. We abandoned the idea of a Pope over five hundred years ago, and even stepped away from having an earthly spiritual head in 1741 when we formally elected Jesus Christ as Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. But indirectly, it may have a lot to do with us, since many of the new Pope’s values – respect for the poor, the “last and the least,” valuing Creation, simplicity of life – are also Moravian values. And historically, the resignation of Benedict has a connection to our history: the last Pope to resign from office was Gregory XII, just a couple of days prior to the burning of Jan Hus in 1415. He had been elected specifically to serve as an interim Pope while the Western Schism, the fight between the Avignon Pope Benedict XIII and Antipope John XXIII, was resolved. The conflict of the three opposing Popes was resolved at the Council of Constance; the other business of the Council was the trail and execution of Jan Hus, whose followers later organized the Unitas Fratrum or Moravian Church. If you’re interested in this historic event, you can read more about it on my blog at The Last Pope Who Resigned.

We want to echo the values of simple living, respect for animals and creation, and ministry to the poor that the newly elected Pope accentuates with his name choice. So this month, we’ll be screening the classic 1972 film Brother Sun, Sister Moon (about Saint Francis) and later this year we’ll be joining many other churches in holding a pet blessing service near Saint Francis’ feast day in early October. We’ve discussed such a service for many years, so this is the year we’ll put it into practice!

The Last Pope Who Resigned

Papal Resignations and
the Beginnings of the Moravian Church

Pope Benedict XVI has resigned!  News pundits the world over have been scrambling to answer the question of how long it has been since a Pope resigned – and the answer is just under 600 years, and the last Papal resignation was closely related to the start of the Unitas Fratrum, the Moravian Church.

At the end of the 14th century, the Roman Catholic world was divided:  there were two opposing Pontiffs claiming to each be the one true heir of Saint Peter:  Pope Benedict XIII (the Avignon Pope) and Pope Boniface XII (the Roman Pope).  This “Western Schism” between Rome and Avignon, driven by power and politics rather than any theological issues, had been going on for over twenty years.  When Boniface died in 1404, there was a period of mass confusion that might be called “shuffling the Popes.”  Innocent VII was elected, only to die two years later – no one knows whether of natural causes or not.  He was succeeded by Gregory XII.  Gregory and Benedict initially agreed to meet in Savona, Italy to try and resolve the dispute – but both backed out at the last minute. In a soap opera worse than General Hospital in its weirdest years, the cardinals called a meeting in Pisa where they elected yet another Pope, Alexander V.

So, the year 1410 dawned with not one, not two, but three Popes.  Perhaps Alexander would have been better to stay out of it all, for he only lived a few months as Pope – he died “suddenly” on May 3.  Rumors that he had been poisoned by his successor, John XXIII, are just rumors without proof; but gosh, during this titanic struggle for power over all of Europe, lots of folks died unexpectedly shortly after being elected!  So the election of John XIII settled nothing – there were still three Popes actively claiming to be the one true head of the Church of Rome.

This sordid mess, bubbling and burping and destabilizing European nations, was the culmination of several centuries of power struggles, politics, war, and corruption in the papacy.  Into this world came an idealistic young Czech priest, Jan Huss (often called John Hus in English-speaking areas).  An academic star at the University of Prague, Jan had become interested in the writings of John Wycliffe in England, who had argued that the Scriptures should be available in the common language, not just in Latin.  He began preaching in Czech at the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, attracting worshippers for miles around – worshippers who had never before heard the Gospel in a language they could understand.  Hus opposed the sale of indulgences, a neat papal gimmick that helped finance the Crusades.  Purchasers of indulgences were able to get time knocked off of purgatory for themselves or for a loved one – for a price, of course.   Hus also taught that all believers should be able to receive holy communion in both kinds; during the Middle Ages the Church had begun to withhold the wine from commoners, only allowing ordained clergy to receive the wine and the bread.  And Hus stepped on some pretty powerful toes by preaching that the clergy should adhere to a moral code – in other words, practice what they preached to others.  These controversial stands (so similar to those of Martin Luther a hundred years later) attracted many and generated even more controversy.

The last thing Pope John XXIII needed was more controversy.  He declared Hus a heretic and anyone who protected Hus would be excommunicated.  He called a Church Council in Constance, Switzerland, which began in 1414, the primary business being to deal with the Schism – but also to deal with the upstart Jan Hus.  Hus was invited to the Council to defend his views, and was given safe passage by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund.  However, when he arrived at Constance, he was arrested and imprisoned.

Hus was tried in classic medieval fashion – he was told he was a heretic and had to recant.  When he challenged his accusers to show where in the Scriptures anything he had said was wrong, he was just told again that he had to confess and recant.  When he complained that he had never said some of the things he was accused of, he was told again that he had to confess and recant.

At the last trial, on 8 June 1415, thirty-nine sentences were read to him, twenty-six of which had been excerpted from his book on the Church, seven from his treatise against Páleč, and six from that against Stanislav ze Znojma. Hus declared himself willing to submit to the Council if he could be convinced of any errors. This declaration was considered an unconditional surrender, and he was asked to confess:

  1. that he had erred in the theses which he had hitherto maintained;
  2. that he renounced them for the future;
  3. that he recanted them; and
  4. that he declared the opposite of these sentences.

He asked to be exempted from recanting doctrines which he had never taught; he again challenged the Council to show him his error from the Scriptures.  He stood firm before the Council and refused to recant, knowing that it would cost him his life.  He was thrown back into the dungeon to await execution.

The titanic struggle between popes continued aboveground while Hus was left to rot in the dungeon.  The Council decided that all three popes should resign and that a new pope would be appointed.  Gregory agreed – and so did John at first.  Benedict hemmed and hawed from Avignon.  Finally, on July 4, 1415, Gregory resigned as he had agreed, but John fled the council, refusing to resign, apparently hoping that without him it would lose its authority. Instead, the council deposed him and declared him an “antipope.”

They turned their attention back to the unfortunate Hus, and two days later sentenced him to death by burning.  He had a “devil’s miter” placed on his head, was declared an unredeemed heretic, and was tied to a stake.  Given one last chance to recant and save his life, Hus said: “God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.” He was then burned at the stake, and his ashes ground to fine powder and thrown into the Rhine River so that no followers would be able to retrieve a relic of any kind.  He died singing a hymn, “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.”

Finished with the upstart heretic, the Council then turned its attention back to John XXIII, and tried him for “heresy, simony, schism and immorality,” finding him guilty on all counts. Edward Gibbon wrote, “The more scandalous charges were suppressed; the vicar of Christ was accused only of piracy, rape, sodomy, murder and incest.” The last remaining claimant in Avignon, Benedict XIII, refused to resign and was excommunicated and also declared an “antipope.”  Martin V was elected as new pope in 1417.

So, the last Pope to resign voluntarily from office happened just two days before Jan Hus was burned at the stake.  His followers would fight back, and the bloody Hussite Wars resulted in the formation of the Unitas Fratrum, the Unity of Brethren, on March 1, 1457.  This was before Martin Luther had even been born, making this movement the first true Reformation.

Some claim that Benedict VIII did not really resign voluntarily (since he was required to by the Council), that the last Pope to truly step down voluntarily was Celestine V in 1294.  This may be splitting hairs.

An interesting note is that Antipope John XXIII was later regarded as being so evil that the name “John” was not used again by any pope for several hundred years.  Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli decided to redeem the name and also bridge the divide with Protestants by selecting the name John XXIII when he was elected in 1958.  On his choice of names, he said:

I choose John … a name sweet to us because it is the name of our father, dear to me because it is the name of the humble parish church where I was baptized, the solemn name of numberless cathedrals scattered throughout the world, including our own basilica [St. John Lateran]. Twenty-two Johns of indisputable legitimacy have [been Pope], and almost all had a brief pontificate. We have preferred to hide the smallness of our name behind this magnificent succession of Roman Popes.

He went on to call the Second Vatican Council and undertake very significant reforms in the Roman Catholic Church.  It’s worthy of note that if the first John XXIII had possessed the large sense of humor that his 20th century version had, things might have been very different.  But none of the Popes involved, or the cardinals at the Council, apparently possessed any sense of humor at all.

Once, when visiting the Holy Spirit Hospital in Rome, the mother superior welcomed him with the words, “Most Holy Father, I am the superior of the Holy Spirit.”

“Well, I must say you’re lucky,” responded the huge Pope.  “I’m only the Vicar of Jesus Christ!”

When asked by a newcomer to the Holy See how many people worked in the Vatican, the pontiff mischievously replied, “Oh no more than half of them.”

Easter is Coming!

Easter is coming!  Throughout the time of Lent, during the solemn days of Passion Week as we read the experiences of the disciples and the Savior, we know that Easter is coming.  We already know “the rest of the story.”  But the disciples did not.  Though Jesus seems to have known what was coming, the disciples were like us – they got up each day and lived the day with hopes and fears, but were never sure what would happen next.  Even though Jesus had tried to convey to them what was coming, they really weren’t able to comprehend the astounding story that they were a part of.  Surely it must have seemed to them that Palm Sunday was a day of great hopefulness and victory.  Even though Jesus had told them that he must suffer and die, surely for many of them there stirred hopes that day that everything was going to work out well.  People were cheering, people seemed to be recognizing him as the Messiah.  Things were looking up!  But as that week progressed, some of them must have been frightened and even appalled by Jesus’ actions in the marketplace, by his confrontational preaching that was sure to offend the leaders in power.  And after that Last Supper in the upper room, when everything seemed to fall to pieces and they scattered in fear, surely dark despair and fear took over.  Peter was so frightened that he even denied knowing Jesus.  Unlike us, they did not know “the rest of the story.”

The observance of Easter was the central celebration for the early Christians.  It was the center point for all worship, the fountain from which all of their faith sprang and bubbled and danced.  Preparing for Easter, particularly the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, was the most important time of the Christian year.  The Moravians began the practice of gathering each night of Holy Week to read together the events of that day, to sing, to meditate, and to pray.  This is still one of the unique parts of our worship that binds all Moravians together, from Labrador to Surinam, from Germany to South Africa.  This spiritual practice of prayer, of reading, of reflection, is a profound and moving way to prepare our hearts for the Resurrection.  Our worship is quite experiential, and for the participants both moving and profound.

I encourage you to set aside the time this year to attend our Reading Services, to experience with other Moravians the moments of the week, the supper in the upper room, the solemn experience of carrying the cross, the darkness of the Tenebrae service, the profound music of Great Sabbath, and finally the great triumph of Easter morning, as in the predawn moments we will proclaim together, “The Lord is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed!”

- Pastor John

On Faith, Relationship, and the Conversion of Saul

This past week the liturgical calendar recognized the Conversion of Paul on Friday, January 25th. Of course, like most stuff on the liturgical calendar, we don’t actually know the date on which Paul was converted, it’s just the date that traditionally has been used to remember the event – and an important event it was in Christian history, especially for those of us that are Gentiles!

Saul, as he was originally known, was a tradesman, a tentmaker from the town of Tarsus, a city in southern Turkey.  Because of his residency, he was a citizen of the Roman Empire, something that would be important later in his life. Saul was a very religious man, a member of the Pharisees, a Jew of impeccable religious practice and credentials.

In fact, Paul was absolutely sure of his Phariseeical Jewish faith – of every bit of it, so sure that he was willing to participate in the stoning of Stephen without a moment’s hesitation – just as the torturers of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in the 15th century – usually referred to as “The Spanish Inquisition” – were absolutely sure they were doing right as they twisted you on the rack. It was for your own good, for your ultimate salvation that they burned you with hot pokers. They tortured with absolute calmness of spirit, certain of the rightness of their religion. The only problem is that they were WRONG.

I know Christians today so perfectly assured that they are right, right about every doctrine, understanding, and detail, so right that they would not hesitate a moment to stand with Saul holding the coats, throwing the stones, or turning the wheel on the rack. They have confused their certainty about their personal beliefs with TRUTH, and confused their certainty about their own sense of being right with GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS. They are not the same thing.  In fact, there are ways in which they are diametrically opposed!

This confusion between “I am right” and truth, between “my understanding” and God’s understanding, is one of the fundamental problems of religion through the centuries. The fact is that human religion is really based on “I am right,” rather than on “God is right” – even when they confuse the issue by whacking you on the forehead with a King James Bible. True faith derives from an encounter with the living God, not from a list of precepts.

It was an encounter with the risen Christ that changed Saul’s life and transformed him from a murderer of Christians to a believer himself. Like 007, he set off to Damascus with a “License to Kill” in his pocket, breathing “threats and murder” against those who followed “The Way.” But along the road to Damascus, he stumbled onto “The Way” himself when he met the risen Savior.

I don’t know exactly what happened or how it happened, but Paul’s experience was that of a bright, blinding light and a voice: “Why are you persecuting me?” Saul was knocked off his feet, he had the rug pulled out from under him. He went from an absolutely self-assured raging crusader to a blinded, helpless man whose world had been turned upside-down. But that’s what an encounter with the living God does to people! It turns their world upside-down, turns their certainties into doubts, and makes them sure of only one thing – that there is indeed a God, and they are not Him!

From this experience, Saul had to completely rebuild his life, had to turn 180 degrees and reverse the entire direction of his being. But the amazing thing is that God lets us take such U-turns, in fact He often makes them happen! Conversions do happen, they are real, and when they happen like this they are very fundamental in nature.

Paul, as he came to be known rebuilt his life on a new foundation – not the foundation of a list of religious beliefs, but the foundation of actual experience, an actual relationship with the very Savior he had once doubted with complete certainty. His new life was built on faith, not dogma.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” — Galileo Galilei

And this brings up an important point about faith – one that I often discuss with members and friends that experience times of doubt or pain of challenge. “Faith” is an abused and misused word!
Most often I hear the term “FAITH” used in a way that means “thoughtless belief without doubt in the impossible or contradictory or simply silly.” Many Christians behave as if willfully believing a certain list of propositions, no matter how silly or contradicted by reason or science, is what God wants us to do.  No, I love the comment by Galileo: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

And the comment by our Moravian Bishop Edwin Sawyer: “The door of the church ought never be so low you have to leave your brains outside.”

“The door of the church ought never be so low you have to leave your brains outside.”

– The Right Rev. Edwin Sawyer

But when we use FAITH in a normal sentence – such as “I have faith that Joe will do the right thing,” or “I have faith in you.” Do we mean that we are stubbornly and blindly believing against all evidence that Joe, who is a crack addict in and out of jail who abandoned his family, embezzled from his employer, and has destroyed pretty much every relationship in his life will, because of our belief, suddenly turn around and behave completely out of character? NO! We mean that even in a new situation that we’ve never experienced, we expect that the reliable, good, solid person that we have watched in other situations over the years, will do the right thing – because that’s what Joe does. Our faith is based on our experience with Joe, in our relationship with Joe.

FAITH is based on experience – on relationship, not on willfully believing a list of particular silly things.

It is when we know another person that we are confident of what that person will do in any situation. One of my favorite bits from Count Zinzendorf is actually a footnote to a sermon on one of Paul’s letters, about a comment that is a little ambiguous and hard to translate. In the footnote, the good Count wrote: “I am sometimes confused about what Paul means here, but I am saved from error because I know the One about Whom he is speaking.” I know the One about Whom he is speaking!

Again, on the road to Damascus, Paul went from being absolutely confident of his own rightness, of being 100% unshakably certain that everything on his list of litmus tests for Jewish orthodoxy were RIGHT to a blind, shaky confused man who had actually experienced the presence of the Savior. He had to rebuild his life on that RELATIONSHIP and ACTUAL EXPERIENCE of the Savior now rather than on a list of proposition.

There are Christians, in fact many Christians, who will tell you that you are not a “good” Christian if you believe in evolution or the big Bang or that the Earth was not created on 23 Oct, 4004 BC (as Bishop James Ussher confidently decreed) or some other date picked out of a hat by another fundamentalist based on some other Rube Goldberg contraption of contrived logic. BALONEY. The True Christian life is based on a real relationship with the Savior, EXPERIENCE of God of Creation. As a result, the growing faithful Christian will often have periods of doubt and questions as he or she grows, as his self-assured beliefs are challenged by a Damasucs Road experience, as her childish beliefs have to fall by the wayside in the experience of grown-up situations that call for grown up courage and grown up faith in a grown-up God!

“Faith” is not pulling up your socks and turning off your brain and willfully believing in something silly or magical or contradictory. It’s not believing the impossible, as in my favorite bit from Alice in Wonderland:

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Now, the fact of the matter is that as we grow in faith – that being again a living relationship with a living Savior, not some superficial belief in a set of propositions – we will wrestle with new and deeper spiritual issues and questions. We will never be at the same spot on the journey of faith as someone else; and so inevitably some will see further down the road than others, one standing at the top of a hill will see beyond the valley that another is in. Both are on the same journey, following the same Savior, but at different points. And such differences in perspective inevitably cause differences in opinion and perception. How could it be otherwise? But the true test of those who are part of the Kingdom is that they are called to be One even when experiencing such differences in perspective.

This is nothing new! Paul ran into this sort of thing right away with Peter, who after all felt that he was the proper head of the Church – and who at this point believed that the message was only for Jews, not for Gentiles. They had quite a wrestling match over this, in fact Paul’s calling to preach to the Gentiles nearly cost him his relationship with the Church in Jerusalem – and this tension was only resolved through Peter’s visionary experience, another intervention of the divine not unlike Paul’s Damascus Road experience.

Our Moravian Church has experienced such differences and struggles over the centuries, and will continue to struggle with these issues as surely as God made little green apples. If we stop having these struggles, that will be the time to feel for the pulse, shake the head sadly, and pull the sheet up – for we will be dead. Turmoil, differences, and struggle are not signs of weakness, they are signs of life.

So in all of this the question that I would leave you with is this: HOW DO YOU EXPERIENCE THE SAVIOR?

Ordinary Time

We are now in Ordinary Time! Sounds like H. G. Wells or Doctor Who or Star Trek – you know, after the USS Enterprise has emerged from a singularity that has created a tear in the space-time continuum, Mr. Spock calmly announces, “Captain, we have successfully returned to Ordinary Time.” But it has nothing to do with science fiction – it’s actually the portion of the liturgical year that is not Advent or Easter or Pentecost. There are actually two periods of the Church Year that are referred to as “Ordinary Time:” the period following the Baptism of Jesus until Ash Wednesday, and the period following Pentecost until the beginning of Advent.
I’ve always been a bit intrigued with the concept of “Ordinary Time.” Since most of our lives are lived in “Ordinary Time,” regular days at the office or at school or commuting to work, I think it can be a terrific symbolic reminder that God is just as present in those average days as He is in the mountaintop days; that He is with us in the trenches of daily life as He is in the moments of celebration.

Read more about Ordinary Time on Wikipedia.

This is particularly important to us here at Trinity this year, because we’ve just finished a year of celebration, a year of parties and luncheons and special events to celebrate our Centennial. And now it’s over, now we return to “Ordinary Time.” There are no big parties and special events for the second month of our hundred and first year – or for the second Sunday of the third month of our hundred and first year. It’s back to the regular work of being the Church. But that is a special as it gets, because it’s there in midst of the day-to-day ministry that the work of God really happens, that the Kingdom is made manifest. That’s the place where the sick are supported, where the bereaved are comforted, the needy find help, and the despairing find hope. Mighty important work, the work that is done in “Ordinary Time!”

So it’s back to Ordinary Time, back to the week-in, week-out work of the Church of Christ. Ordinary Time can be pretty special!

- Pastor John

The Waiting Place

Advent is something of a waiting place – a place where we are waiting for Christmas, waiting for the birth. We anticipate the holy Event; we get prepared for it. And just as a child longs for Christmas morning to come or a pregnant woman longs for delivery in the last few weeks of pregnancy (Sister Dena Moore comes to mind for some reason!), so we long for Christmas.

You may have seen Dr. Seuss’ book Oh, the Places You’ll Go. In his wacky wise way, Ted Geisel acknowledges that in every life there are places we go that don’t feel positive – or which don’t feel like we’re getting anywhere. One of these is The Waiting Place:

The Waiting Place…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come,
or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No….

 

 

We have many waiting places in life. The doctor’s waiting room, with the same old magazines we saw last time, surrounded by sniffling people and crying children, is a place that we wait. Flying somewhere on an airplane is less fun now than ever before, especially when the flight is late and we have to wait far longer than expected. When the waiting is finally over, we are really ready to see the doctor or to get on the plane and reach our destination!

Our instant culture is not one that likes to wait. The microwave is no longer fast enough for us. Instant gratification is the hallmark of our internet economy. But sometimes we need to slow down and wait.
“The greatest revelation is stillness,” said Chinese philosopher Lao-Tse. But how often do we slow down to have a few moments of silence, of time to prepare for God? These moments don’t just happen for most of us – they have to be intentionally set aside. The world and even the Church has filled Advent with busy-ness and noise and things to do. Yet it should be a time when we have some stillness to prepare for the spiritual event of Christmas.

“Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31). Waiting in silence is not a waste of time if it prepares our hearts for what is to come. This Advent season, set aside some time to wait upon the Lord, set aside some time to have silence, to have prayer, to read a meditation. Make this time a waiting place – a place of preparation for joy.

- Pastor John

All Saints’ Day and Thanksgiving

November is a month bracketed by All Saints Day (November 1) and Thanksgiving (November 22) and ends with our move into the season of Advent. Just like the changing weather, November is truly a change of seasons in the Church!

All Saints’ Day began back in the Middle Ages when the Roman Catholic church began to run out of calendar days for Feasts in honor of lesser saints. While it began as a sort of catch-all festival to acknowledge lots of lesser saints who didn’t have their own feast day, in the Protestant church it became a chance to celebrate and reflect on all the unacknowledged saints who have passed the faith on to us and now are in the more immediate presence of the Savior. Many of these are folks who would never have been recognized as “official” saints, but they are the true working Christians who have lived out the message, passed on the love, shared a cup of water with the thirsty and bread with the hungry. On the first Sunday in November, we’ll come together and remember those saints who have touched our lives.

On November 11, we will celebrate Holy Communion in remembrance of the 1741 announcement that Jesus Christ had been elected as Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. While the election happened in September of that year, the celebration was delayed to make sure that all the mission outposts in far-flung parts of the world could receive the word and celebrate on the same day. This very peculiar Moravian tradition is a powerful symbol that we follow Christ and Christ alone.

The modern celebration of Thanksgiving has moved around a bit from time to time, but has generally been the fourth Thursday in November. Once again this year, we will join with other neighborhood churches in a Community Thanksgiving Eve Lovefeast on Wednesday night, and take a special offering that will be used to benefit the needy in our area. This is a wonderful service to invite friends, neighbors, and family to – a time of thanks and praise to our creator God!

- Pastor John

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