Friday, May 28, 2010

Trinity Sunday

Katie and I took a long walk this afternoon. This pond is behind the New Harmony Inn and these two swans are permanent residents. They swim in this pond and then through a series of canals running east to another pond. You can't really tell from this picture but they are big birds! I think the male swan probably weighs 30 pounds and maybe more. Katie is curious but she is not going to get too close...I'm sure papa swan could do some damage with his beak.

Sunday we celebrate the Trinity. My favorite image of the Trinity is Rublev's icon of the Trinity (pictured below). I love the notion that these three "persons" seem to be seated at a table and there is room at the table for me. It is one of the most prevalent images that comes to my mind when I am meditating and praying. Just to feel myself seated in the rich presence of holiness quietens my spirit. I am going to preach on the lesson from Proverbs (Chapter 8). The author writes: "Does not wisdom call and does not understanding raise her voice?" I believe that the Holy Spirit is Lady Wisdom, or as Eugene Peterson calls her in The Message, "Madam Insight". This "wise woman" image of the Spirit makes recognizing her work in us so important. We bring our greatest concerns and deepest needs before the Spirit because without ever uttering a word those intimate needs and concerns are already known by the Spirit who dwells in us. Not a hurt or a care goes unnoticed by this insightful Spirit. I read once that the Holy Spirit can be called our "baggage handler." Each heavy burden is borne by God's own presence in us, even those burdens which we cannot yet articulate.

Rublev's Icon of the Trinity

This is the welcoming table of God's presence. I hope that each of you get to spend some time there this weekend.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pentecost 2010

St. Stephen's Parish - Pentecost 2010

We had a wonderful worship service today as we celebrated Pentecost. Pentecost is a Jewish festival which the Christian Church incorporated into its story. Pentecost (Shavuot) celebrates the giving of the 10 commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It is celebrated 50 days after Passover. On Pentecost the Jewish people came together and renewed their commitment to God and to each other. When the followers of Jesus came together to celebrate Pentecost after the death and resurrection of Jesus they must have been wondering how they would be able to move forward from the miraculous events of the past 50 days. How could they continue now that Jesus had ascended leaving them. On this Pentecost celebration the Holy Spirit came down with rushing wind and tongues of fire. The Spirit filled the worshippers with God's presence and an assurance of God's love. The sustaining power of God's presence sent these disciples out into the world to proclaim God's love. We still have God's presence to sustain us and to confirm God's love in our hearts. I wrote a blessing for today's service:

Come rushing wind and flashing fire,
Spirit of God turn us to your love.
In our sorrow, breathe hope;
In our hurts, breathe peace.
Spread the joy of your love in us,
to all the nations of the world.
Go forth in the blessing of God who is
the Creator of all,
our Redeemer and
our Sustaining power. Amen.

Peony Season in New Harmony

The peonies in New Harmony this year have been beautiful. This "old fashioned" flower has a lovely scent which is not overwhelming. There is a Peony Farm in New Harmony and they ship the peony buds all over the world. Once the buds bloom they are no longer able to ship them and they open the farms for picking. It is amazing to see the variety of peonies. Most of the peonies in town are white, pink, and deep purple. I have a parishioner who has a deep red peony which is beautiful. Next spring come to New Harmony to see the peonies!

Parish House

The Parish House is coming along - some of the siding is up in the front. It will be painted white with blue trim. There are so many decisions to be made right now but everyone is getting excited. The contractor says we might be in by the end of July.

Friday, May 7, 2010


This week the workers installed this window in the new Parish House! This window faces south and there is one just like it on the north side of the building. Yesterday we worked with the electricians who are wiring the new part and rewiring the old building. When they took the siding off of the back of the old structure they found electrical wiring held together with black electrical tape! When they added on to the original c. 1890's house the wiring was added in a haphazard way. God was good to us over those intervening years as we added computers, copy machines and all manner of kitchen appliances to that frail system. Rewiring this older structure will give us a huge margin of safety. We also worked with the cabinet makers this week to determine storage. It is exciting to see the way it moves forward each day.

Tomorrow I am preaching at our SW Deanery Confirmation service in Washington, IN. I was doing some research for the sermon and came across this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.

"There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed in. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”. But they went on with the conviction that they were a “colony of heaven,” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought to an end such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest. Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are."-- Dr.Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James Melvin Washington (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986), pg. 300.

This quote reminded me of some of the things that Philip Newell is teaching at the Benedictine Retreat this week. Newell teaches that the doctrine of creation was "watered down" (my word, Newell used the word, "neutralized") when Christianity was legalized by the Empire. Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyons, c. 202) wrote that creation is not ex nihilo (out of nothing); rather, God created all that is out of God's self. Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John, the beloved disciple of Jesus. If all that is created is out of God then we bear the DNA of God in a particular way in our own DNA. This has serious implications for our interactions with each other - implications that go way beyond the current cultures of making war, terrorism, and fundamentalism. Of course the Roman Empire would not want people to believe that each person created bears God. How then could we separate ourselves into the exclusive groups or good and evil, believers and non-believers (infidels). What if we ALL honored this DNA of God in ourselves and others? This is very radical stuff but it resonates within me as the truth that will allow us to stop destroying each other and ourselves. Perhaps the greatest problem our world faces is "religious fundamentalism." Fundamentalists found among Christians, Muslims, or Jews (and many other sects) see the world and people in very exclusive ways. Certain people must be excluded so that we can know who we are.

Julian of Norwich, the 14th Century mystic and writer says that "we are made OF God." Being made of God has huge implications for my life and I am just beginning to reach into those implications as I write this...

Colors of Spring

This is the view from my backyard. This has been one of the most beautiful seasons of Spring that I have known in recent memory. The greens are particularly wonderful. This is a fallow (so far) field where wild mustard has grown up. They may plow it up to plant soybeans later but for now it is radiant! the Wabash River (the tiny slice of blue in the green) is now full to the edges from the rain we had last weekend. Katie and I ride the golf cart down to see it in the evenings.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Blackberry Winter

Blackberry Blooms!
Actually blackberry winter was last week - this week is going to be like summer! This is a picture of the blackberry bushes in my backyard. My wonderful next door neighbor trimmed all of the dead vines out of them and they are so pleasing to look at now. Last year I both my neighbor and I got loads of blackberries off of the bushes and this year it looks like they will be loaded again. So look for that blackberry jelly again!
On Saturday we rededicated the Roofless Church here in New Harmony on its 50th anniversary. It was a wonderful service - there must have been 150 people there. The Rev. Dr. Philip Newell spoke. Philip and his wife, Allie, are here in New Harmony on sabbatical. Philip was the Warden (like the Dean) of Iona Abbey in Scotland and he has written extensively on Celtic worship. One of the things he said in his talk was that God cannot be contained in buildings, and neither can God be contained by the walls we put up in our hearts. He spoke quite forcibly (I thought) about how imperative it is that we stop separating ourselves from brothers and sisters in different faith traditions. Until we are able to recognize our One-ness in God, peace will never come.
I was reminded of his words as I sat down to write my sermon later in the day. The lessons for the 5th Sunday of Easter were so clearly about this sort of demolition of walls. Christianity, from the beginning, struggled with how to be inclusive. Peter's vision in Acts 11 allowed the first (perhaps) wall to be dismantled. The Jewish Christians didn't want to include the Gentile Christians because it meant letting go of their deeply held traditions. But God shows Peter in a vision that what God has made is clean. So the gospel goes forth to the Gentiles. The commandment to love one another just as Jesus has loved us (John 13) is of course the hardest. I want to exclude those who are different from me (for any reason) because it requires really hard work, inside my self, to overcome my fears and prejudices. Father Zossima, in The Brothers Karamazov says, "Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams." Peter was able to enter into this hard work because he did not want to hinder God's work. What about me? Will I be able to put aside my prejudices and do the hard work of love?

Making Progress

We are now "under roof" and moving along. We are all beginning to get a sense of what the new Parish House will look like and how radically different it will be from the old one. There is so much space in the new building and we are getting excited. More pictures perhaps even tomorrow if they put the round windows in at the top of the hall!!