Liberation in Jesus

The Gospel story this morning sets the theme of the kingdom of God and more pointedly the mission of Jesus.  Here Jesus and his newly minted disciples head into Capernaum.  In the synagogue Jesus is confronted by a man with an unclean spirit—or to put it bluntly, evil.  Here we see Jesus exercising the authority of God as he calls out the spirit and heals the man.  Releasing individuals and the world as a whole is the major theme that courses through the ministry of Jesus.

In Jesus we are called into a profound sense of liberation from our sins, from those things and attitudes that bind us and urge us to heap chains on others.  Through Jesus we are offered the gift of liberation that comes from the healing of our souls.

About 20 years later, Paul is writing a letter to the small church in Corinth.  He reached the Gospel to the men and women in this cosmopolitan city in Greece and witnessed their conversion from a religion of many gods to the one true God in Jesus Christ.  Before they were pagans, now they are Christians.

Paul, having fulfilled his work in Corinth has moved on to other missionary fields.  But he has heard that this congregation of Corinthians are squabbling.  They are fighting about baptism, about the role of women, about the Eucharist, and they are fighting about food.  In this portion of his first letter to the Corinthians Paul is addressing a food fight.

A wide spread practice among pagans was to buy meat at the market and take it to the local temple to be offered as a sacrifice to one of the many gods.  After the ritual, the meat was back on the market for sale.  Was it OK for a Christian to put that meat on the table?  To Paul, a piece of meat is a piece of meat regardless of its original intent. Paul’s argument was that the idols in the temple are false and no threat to the one true God.  So, the Christians were allowed to eat what they wanted.

The squabble arose because there were members of the church family still worried about the idols and that eating the food that had been used in the worship of idols would lessen their devotion to God.  This liberality was uncomfortable to their conscience.  This reminds us a bit of the fish rule on Fridays that the Roman Catholics authorities rescinded in the 60’s.  Many said “thank God,”   others said “no way, fish on Fridays now and forever” while still others ate their hamburgers with heavy load of guilt.

Paul is well aware that this sort of contention over a piece of meat (or fish) sets up a dynamic of “I’m right, you’re wrong.”  He is not backing down on his teaching about meat nor his teaching on the liberality of God, but he is arguing for a sense of moderation—more than that, an attitude of generosity.  There will always be some who are timid about the changing rules but the sin is not what you eat or don’t eat, what you know and do not know, the sin is about wounding another person’s conscience.  Whenever we wound another in the family of God we wound Christ no matter how right we deem ourselves to be.  Acerbic condescension—that is a sin.

Footnote—to see acerbic condescension in action is to know Maggie Smith’s character  in Downton Abbey, the Dowager of Grantham—the overseer of morals—          wagging her head and looking down her nose.

I read an essay recently by Nicholas Kristoff that focused on a kind of cultural or social phenomenon that we experience today—acerbic condescension which leads to an empathy gap.  The trigger for his essay was the death of his childhood friend, Kevin.  Now, I am quoting Kristoff.

The doctors say that Kevin died at age 54 of multiple organ failure, but in a deeper sense he died of inequality and a lack of good jobs.  Lots of Americans would have seen Kevin—obese with a huge gray beard, surviving on disability and food stamps—as a moocher. They would have been harshly judgmental:   Why don’t you look after your health? Why did you father two kids outside of marriage?

This acerbic condescension reflects one of this country’s fundamental problems: an empathy gap. It reflects the delusion on the part of many affluent Americans that those like Kevin are lazy or living cushy lives and that poor people have only themselves to blame.

Kevin Green grew up on a farm in Yamhill, Ore.  His father had a third grade education but Kevin graduated from high school and got a good job in a glove factory.  He had everything going for him: he was energetic, helpful, reliable, and always ready to lend a hand. Then the bottom started to fell out.  The factory moved elsewhere, the feed store closed.  Union jobs were hard to find.  Kevin fell in love but he was too broke to get married so his twins were born out of wedlock.  Then he hurt his back and couldn’t work, his girlfriend left with the kids.

In the last year of his life he was living on $180 a month along with disability payments and a small income from home grown pot.  Everything in Kevin’s body was failing and at 350 pounds he could no longer even walk.

Did Kevin fail or did society fail him?  There are those who would say that he should have just picked himself by his boat straps, the kind of religion of self-help.   He should have known better and planned for the future, the kind of religion of the crystal ball.

Our talk of “shoulds and oughts” come easily. We who don’t walk in the shoes of the Kevins of the world find it rather easy to let words of judgment escape our lips or at the least spoken silently in our minds.

Paul had something to say about this acerbic condescension that comes rather easily to those who have reaped the fortunes of economic comfort and social know how. He might have been addressing meat on the table but he is really talking about condescension and the acute harm that it causes.

We can be honest and know that this affliction is a part of who we are both as individuals and as a society.  Still we have the capacity to think otherwise.  Paul is always pointing us to the healing grace of God’s love in Christ Jesus—a healing grace that, like a medicinal salve, can draw out whatever infection gets lodged in our soul.  The healing grace of Christ is what increases our capacity to love without judgment, to graciously understand the weaknesses of our fellow companions, to respect one another.  All that capacity is filled with the liberal love of God.

 

Epiphany 4, 2015

The Reverend Deborah Dresser

 

Letting Baptism Catch Up With You

One thing’s for sure and that is whenever the subject of baptism gets brought up, especially when it has to do with your child or your grandchild or someone in a different denomination than your’s—there is inevitably a heated discussion, or an argument or fireworks.  Which church does it right, is baptism better by immersion or dipping, is it infant baptism or young adult-believers baptism?  Where is the right place for baptism to take place?  Who can be the God-parent? –my best friend who is Roman Catholic or Jewish or an atheist? When it comes to baptism, we get all tied up in doctrines and customs, trying to do the right thing and not to offend anyone. Does this resonate with any of you?

Well, just go to the Holy Land and experience the fiery controversy about the location of Jesus’ baptism—the real site.  On the surface you may think this controversy is a waste of time, given all the other pressing issues that crop up in that part of the world.  But citing the real spot on the Jordan River where John met Jesus and where the heavens were torn apart is important.

It is important to biblical scholars and to historians.  And, it is important to the spiritual sensitivities of the faithful who want to step in the stream, just as Jesus did, and feel a sense of holy connection.  As it is, there are two spots on the Jordan River that vie for authenticity.  One is claimed by the Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox churches as the most likely to be the real location—and for sound reasons to be sure.  It is in Bethany beyond the Jordan River, as scripture says and that puts the baptism of our Lord in the country of Jordan, not Israel.  The other site is further north on the river, in Israel and it is owned and operated as a tourist site by the State of Israel.  You are free to draw your own conclusions.

In both of these places the faithful or even the curious have an opportunity to step into the water. I have seen people from as far away as China travel all the way to the Jordan in order to be baptized.  Or baptized persons going down into the water as a way of experiencing baptism anew.  Or simply standing in the water and reciting prayers from our own Book of Common Prayer in order to renew their baptismal vows.

There is a saying: Baptism might get you wet or it might just change your life.  In itself, there’s nothing magical about a dip in the water.  Even if it’s a religiously motivated one, with a formal liturgy in a church, specially blessed water, godparents, and the whole works.  Or taking a pilgrimage to the real Jordan River whether it is in Jordan or Israel.  What makes it special is what you do with it after you get out of the water.

For Jesus, baptism was a pretty rip-tide experience.   Jesus had come out to the Jordan to find John who was rapidly baptizing people who were looking for a way to wash away their sins.  What John was practicing was a baptism of repentance.  It was common enough practice in those days and truthfully the idea of baptism as washing away sin is an excepted understanding of baptism—yes, even in the Episcopal Church.  But there is so much more to it.

John points this out when he says, there is one coming who is much more powerful than me.  I will baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.  You have to love the account in the Gospel of Mark: no sooner have we been alert to the nature of John’s ministry when Jesus appears on the scene and when he rises up from the Jordan, the heavens are TORN apart.  They just didn’t open up, but they were torn apart as if God wasn’t going to waste any time getting down into that river with Jesus and claiming him His own and all us for that matter.  Like, you had better stand back in the wake of this urgency of the Spirit of God That swoops down just as the voice thunders out “You are my Son, my beloved.”  And not just that, God makes this declaration, a declaration that every child longs to hear, “In you I am well pleased.”

Clearly this baptism of the Holy Spirit is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry now claimed as Son and Beloved.  So, too, it is for all of us who are baptized in the name of Jesus the Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is the beginning of our son-ship or daughter-ship with God, in an intimate relationship that God has chosen for us that gives us our working papers to go forth to minister to God’s people in the name of Christ.  It isn’t just a piece of rhetoric that we say we are the Body of Christ.  Individuals yes but together, corporately as the Body of Christ born anew to be the arms and legs, the thoughts and actions of the very Jesus whom we read about in scripture, pray to and sing about.

In reality most of us, at the moment of our baptisms, didn’t experience that rush of wind, the thundering voice of God.  We were infants.  What did we know?  But at whatever age or rational capacity we had to understand what was happening to us we were brought into a community of faith that promised to nurture us in the love of Christ. And blessedly, our baptisms catch up with at some point in our lives.  Whether or not there is any water involved at the moment it happened, you experienced your baptism when you realized who you are at your very core and you accept that realization with joy coming, as it does, from a deep abiding love of God.

Carlo Carletto writes this:

Love is God in me
Yes, love is God in me, 
and if I am in love I am in God, that is, in life, in grace: a sharer in God’s being….

And if God is in me as love,
why do I change or disfigure God’s face with acts or values which are not love?

Let me share two vignettes that reveal the face of God’s love that shines through the baptized. The first is community of Christians who live and worship in the lower East side of New York. Last night Church of Our Savior held a concert featuring their own choir which is made up largely of Cantonese Episcopalians. The occasion was to raise funds to support the Episcopal hospital in Gaza, which like all institutions in the Gaza strip has been devastated by the latest round of rockets.  Al Ahli Hospital is in the heart of Gaza City.  It is run by the Episcopal diocese of Jerusalem but it services any and all Palestinians regardless of religion and ability to pay. It is the only Christian presence in Gaza in an area where unemployment exceed 50%, daily fuel to keep power on in the operating rooms and everywhere in the hospital complex is a challenge.  As winter grinds on, they expect to see more burned children, as they did last winter, from the open fires in homes used to keep families warm.

And, down on the lower Eastside, the Body of Christ radiates God’s love in a small church in Chinatown, A love that crosses ethnic priorities and cultural boundaries. Some say, Isn’t that amazing.  Others would say, we could do no other.

The 2nd vignette was told to me the other day.  Your vestry met last Thursday night, which in and of itself is an act of God’s love but beyond that they had a visitor.  An unknown man arrived without much to his name.  He has just been released from the jail up the road. He was in great need.  How easy it would have been to say, “We are very busy and there is nothing that we can do.”  But there was something to be done.  A show of hospitality and then a phone call to get him safe and warm lodging for the night.  Some would say “we could do no less.”

Today we remember our Lord’s baptism, we remember our own and what changes in our lives that moment, whenever it came or comes again wakes us up to the joy of God’s love and the awareness that we are no less than the Body of Christ, with all our warts and misgivings we have been claimed as God’s beloved.

 

The Baptism of Our Lord, 1 Epiphany, 2015

The Reverend Dr. Deborah Dresser

St. Paul’s Christmas Outreach Update

We had seven children to “adopt” between the  Chester family and Safe Homes. 
We have two children left
-boy in 10th grade, size 14-16,
-boy in 9th grade, size  18-20
As far as clothes they would like dress shirts, t-shirts, hoodie  sweatshirts, sweatpants (no elastic at the bottom).  They asked for some  things for the whole family also so we will use the contributions received to  get family gift cards, etc.  So it just would be a matter of buying clothes.  Please budget around $20-$25 for that so that all the children  get equal gifts.  If you are interested in adopting one of them please let Marie Olsen know by 11/30 so we have time to buy anything not covered.  We need the  items (unwrapped) put in a bag with the child’s grade to the church by  12/07.
If anyone else is  interested in a monetary contribution the deadline for that is 11/30 so we know  how much we have to work with.
The Kiwanis toy drive deadline is also 12/07.  There is a box designated for that in the guild  room.
And as a reminder the Kiwanis are also collecting gently used outerwear any size as the parents need outerwear also.
Thank you to all who have adopted or contributed to this.  
Marie

Stewarding our Wealth

Finally, we are done with the giant sized post cards that poured into our mail boxes urging us to vote for this man or that women.  The election is over. However, now we are barraged by catalogues that promise happiness through buying or, to put a better spin on it, ideas for Christmas presents.

This is also the time of year that the mail brings reminders to make that pledge so that your school/college, or local charity or radio station will not only survive but thrive.  The church is no different.

This is the time of year that St. Pauls is asking you to think about what your parish means to you and express that through financial giving. This is our opportunity to show how your wealth can translate into a commitment to God.

Every one of us has wealth. True, some bank accounts are heftier than others but all of us have been given—either through hard work or gifts—assets that enrich our lives. We can also talk about our wealth in terms of our innate talents or the skills we have acquired. And, to press this further, our wealth can be counted in number of our years, our family and friends and the physical world in which we live.

The question is how do we steward this personal wealth; how do we manage it so it becomes a source of blessing for God’s little acre in which we live. The Gospel invites us to be smart about our wealth and to be generous. I take that to mean paying attention to the needs of people, including your own, and adopting an open hand posture that enacts the spirit of Jesus Christ. As Christians we can do no better.

Rev. Deborah Dresser

St. Paul’s welcomes the Rev. Dr. Deborah Dresser

For the month of September, we are excited to welcome the Rev. Dr. Deborah Dresser to lead St. Paul’s services.
THE REV. DR. DEBORAH DRESSER THE REV. DR. DEBORAH DRESSER, ordained in 1984, has served in six parishes in the Diocese of New York including St. George’s Church, beginning in 1996.  During that time she mentored and worked alongside deacons-in-training and seminarians including St. Paul’s recent vicar, the Rev. Candace Sandfort.

During her tenure in Newburgh Mother Dresser spearheaded Episco-Build, a multi-parish effort of Episcopal parishes in Orange County building houses with Habitat for Humanity in Greater Newburgh. She served as Chair of the Newburgh Interfaith Dialogue; Chair of the Board of Project LIFE, a tier-2 residential transitional-living shelter in the city; and a founding board member of Newburgh Chamber Music, which performs at St. George’sShe also initiated two mission programs of St. George’s: Open Space, a creative support program for pregnant teenagers or teen moms and their children; and Voices of Hope, a community children’s choir.

In the Diocese she served as President of the Standing Committee; she continues to serve as a member of the Global Mission Commission of the Diocese, and the Committee for Diocesan Human Resources.  She received the Bishop’s Cross in 2008.

In 2013, Mother Dresser completed a term as the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, a humanitarian foundation supporting Arab Christians in Israel and Jordan.  She has led numerous pilgrimages to the Holy Land and will lead another in October 2015.

While retired, Mother Dresser continues to supply in local parishes.  She and her husband the Rev. Dr. Robert Dresser continue to live in Newburgh with Cuthbert, the watch-dog corgi.  They have four grown daughters and five grandchildren who bring immeasurable delight to both.

An Important Announcement

July 19, 2014

Dear Friends,

I’m writing to share the bittersweet news that while on Sabbatical I was offered a full time position at St. John’s Church in Montclair, New Jersey, and I have accepted the call.  It is of course very sad for me to leave St. Paul’s and all of you.  I treasure the five years we have spent doing ministry together, and am so grateful to have worked in such a devoted and spiritual community.  I will be forever grateful for the love and warm support you gave me in the beginning when I was finding my way as a new priest.

Our God is a God of new beginnings, and like all new beginnings this will be a challenge for all of us.  To paraphrase the great Anglican writer C. S. Lewis, “God refreshes us with many ‘Inns of Happiness’ along the way, but does not let us tarry long lest we should mistake them for home.”  I am looking forward to the challenges of full time ministry, and I believe St. Paul’s is ready for the challenges that lie ahead also.  You are a strong and loving community and a wonderful example of how a small church can be a healthy church – that is something I have always said about you, and will continue to say as I move out into the broader church.

I plan to end my Sabbatical early and return to St. Paul’s on Sunday, August 3rd, so that we have several weeks together to process all of this and make plans.  My final Sunday will be August 24th.  I look forward to seeing all of you when I return August 3rd when we will have a chance to talk about all of this.

Yours forever in Christ,

Candace

The Rev. Candace Sandfort, Vicar

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Chester, NY 10918

Why Bother Going to Church?

Do you feel you have no time, or need, to go to church?  Many people I talk to feel that way–feel that church is not a necessary part of their spiritual life. That may be true for some, but it seems to me most of us are far too human, far too distracted and stressed out, to think much about God without a weekly reminder.

Going to church is a way to realign and refocus ourselves for another week in this hectic, consumer driven world where it’s easy to lose our focus. How can we find time to think about our deepest values, needs, and desires?  Most of us won’t, left to our own devices.
One hour a week in worship, contemplation, and community, helps us remember what’s really important. An hour to hear again the “Good News” of God’s unfailing love for us. An hour to be reminded to love our neighbors; even the annoying ones, even the odd ones, even ourselves.  One hour a week to hear that God is with us whether or not we can find an hour for God.
Have a blessed first week of summer!
Mother Candace+ 
To receive the entire St. Paul’s Weekly Messenger, please email vicar@stpaulschester.org

Seeing the Holy Spirit

I have come to believe that if we want the Holy Spirit working in and through us, we have to be open to the possibility that the people and events that enter our lives are not all random.  Everything and everyone could be a messenger from God. We need to stop questioning the “coincidences,” and pay attention when we have that prickly feeling on the back of or our neck, or unexpected tears come to our eyes.  We need to claim these as cues and confirmations from Christ within us.

   I remember a moment like this when I was to give a sermon at the chapel at the University of Virginia where John and I first met. When I went to put my sermon on the lectern I found a piece of paper there left behind from a previous service. It was a passage from “The Little Prince” that had always had special meaning for us from the time we met. How could that particular passage from that particular book be on this lectern on this particular day? What are the odds a non-religious reading would even be in a church? What are the odds it would be a reading with such special significance to our relationship in the very place we began that relationship and now returned for the first time in decades?

   What if everything your heart needs is all around you? What if that stranger on the bus has just the right words of counsel? What if that person you just met recommends a book that is just the book you need to read, and you read it, and it changes your life? What if it’s all there, all the guidance, all the reassurance you need, and all you need to do is open your heart to the Holy Spirit to receive it?  “Let those who have ears hear! Let those who have eyes see!”

   May you claim all the blessings that await you in this season of Pentecost! Mother Candace+

To receive the entire St. Paul’s Weekly Messenger, please email vicar@stpaulschester.org

How to Lean Into Your Fear

The disciples are full of fear in this week’s Gospel. Panicked at the thought of being left alone without their leader, unable to find their way… Jesus comforts them:  ”I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  But often the closer we get to the truth the more fearful we become–how can we live into our fear?  Here is an excerpt from When Things Fall Apart by the Buddhist writer Pema Chödrön, whose books have mentored me in my own spiritual journey…and perhaps yours?

 “Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.

If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.”

 Ever in Christ,

Mother Candace+

 

To receive the entire St. Paul’s Weekly Messenger, please send an email to vicar@stpaulschester.org

Presiding Bishop’s Easter Message

An Easter Season Message from our Presiding Bishop   

The tomb is empty, and nobody knows where the body is.  Mary Magdalene tells the others about the mysterious disappearance, but they give up and go home.  Mary stays behind, weeping, and then fails to recognize the risen one before her.  As the days pass, each resurrected encounter begins in surprise or anonymity – the disciples fishing all night without catching, Jesus cooking breakfast on the beach, the two on their way to Emmaus.  Nobody recognizes him at first sight.

 Clearly the risen body is not identical to the Jesus who was crucified.  People mistake him for a stranger.  He enters locked rooms.  He walks along the path to Emmaus for a long time without being recognized.  Crucifixion, death, and resurrection result in a transformed body – with evident scars, but changed nonetheless.  When he reminds others of God’s banquet, meant for the whole world – when human beings are fed and watered, delivered from prison, gathered from exile across the earth, and healed and reconciled into a community of peace – his companions discover that he has once again been in their midst.

 What does that resurrection reality mean for the Body of Christ of which we are part?  How does the risen Body of Christ – what we often call the church – differ from the crucified one?  That Body seems to be most lively when it lives closer to the reality of Good Friday and the Easter mystery.  In the West, that Body has suffered a lot of dying in recent decades.  It is diminished, some would say battered, increasingly punctured by apathy and taunted by cultured despisers.  That body bears little resemblance to royal images of recent memory – though, like Jesus, it is being mocked.  The body remembers and grieves, like the body of Israel crying in the desert, “why did you bring us out here to die?” or the crucified body who cries, “My God, why have you forsaken me,” or “why have you abandoned us?”  In other contexts the Body of Christ is quite literally dying and spilling its lifeblood – in Pakistan and Sudan, in Iraq and Egypt – and in those ancient words of Tertullian, the blood of martyrs is becoming the seed of the church.

 The Body of Christ is rising today where it is growing less self-centered and inwardly focused, and living with its heart turned toward the cosmic and eternal, its attention focused intently on loving God and neighbor.  This Body is rising to stand in solidarity with criminals sentenced to death, with widows and orphans, with the people of the land who slave over furrows and lettuce fields to feed the world.  This Body can be found passing through walls and boundaries that have long been misused to keep the righteous “safe” and “pure.”  The Body is recognized when the hungry are fed – on the lakeshore with broiled fish, on the road to Emmaus, on street corners and city parks, in food pantries and open kitchens, in feeding neighbor nations and former enemies, and as the Body gathers once again to remember its identity and origin – Christ is risen for the sake of all creation.

 Where and how will we look for the Body of Christ, risen and rising?  Will we share the life of that body as an Easter people, transformed by resurrection and sent to transform the world in turn?

 Christ is risen, Alleluia!  Alleluia, Christ is risen indeed!

 The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori

Presiding Bishop and Primate

The Episcopal Church