At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores... Luke 16:20
If you have been to our building lately, you may have noticed something new. For the last five weeks or so, we have had a group of people sitting in the shade on the lot adjacent to Heigham House. Some of these folks are familiar, and some are strangers. Many are in the bondage of addiction.
When I came to St. Paul’s, I knew virtually nothing about heroin, meth, or fentanyl. Here are a few things I learned:
I tell you these two things because addiction is scary. Knowing more will help you feel more aware and secure while coming to the building. It may encourage you to join the Harm Reduction team.
These people, sitting in the shade adjacent to our yard, are absolutely precious to their Creator. God longs for their deliverance and restoration. I confess, that I have not joined God in that desire.
I’ve been so irritated by the trash, their sleepy presence, and my own ambivalence about them, that I have basically wished they’d just disappear. I repent of that.
In a few Sundays, we’ll be hearing the story of Lazarus (Luke 19:16-31). He was a poor man who sat outside the rich man’s door, suffering. We have a Lazarus outside our door. The sores may be from drug injections, and the hunger may be for the next hit, but the suffering is real, and we are called by Jesus to respond.
On September 21, 2022 we’ll launch our Harm Reduction team. This is the embodiment of help and healing. It’s a method for offering prevention of transmissible diseases (HIV and Hep C), preventing overdose (Narcan), and creating a supportive community through food and relationship that just might empower someone to take the next step toward healing.
If you are interested in participating in this doorstep ministry, click HERE to begin.
-- Pastor Rebecca
At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores...
Listen to advice and accept discipline,
and at the end, you will be counted among the wise.
If you are like me, you are happy to give advice and much less happy to receive it. I’ve always been that way, and I’m not getting any better. I’m also much better at saying what’s wrong with everything than determining what’s wrong with me. Fortunately, that one is improving as I age! But the advice thing is an issue.
King Solomon, credited with the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, was purported to be the wisest man in the world. He gave a lot of advice. He is the one who said, “listen to advice and accept discipline, and in the end, you will be counted among the wise." He was great at giving advice but, like the rest of us, not so great at taking it either. Instead of following the advice of others and remaining faithful to monotheistic Judaism, he practiced Judaism alongside other religions. The decision ultimately devastated his kingdom politically and culturally.
Author and pastor Andy Stanley say, “How do you know when you need advice? When you don’t want it.”
We are in a season of discernment at St. Paul’s. We are receiving advice on a new outreach ministry for our addicted neighbors (see Harm Reduction below). We are discerning God’s call to us through the Diocesan program Requiem and Renaissance. Soon we’ll be interviewing a new batch of candidates for our communications position. That hire will lead us further in our La Misa launch. In all of this, we need advice!
We need to share our wisdom and listen to outside voices who will help us. We may not always want this advice, but we need it.
I pray that you will take Andy’s words to heart when someone says to you, “Take my advice….” Before we close down our receptivity, let’s open ourselves to what God might have to tell us. Then we’ll be counted among the wise.
-- Pastor Rebecca
This Sunday, we will hear the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told this story in answer to a question: “Who is my neighbor?” In it, he provides a muti-faceted way of answering the question. I want to warn you that one way of interpreting that story that is risky and wrong.
That interpretation says: Every person on the side of the road is YOUR problem. Every person in need is entitled to your attention, time, and resources. This is simply not the case.
Even Jesus didn’t’ roll that way. He used discernment and the Holy Spirit within him to decide who HE was called to engage with at any particular time.
Imagine if the story went like this: The person lying injured on the side of the road a donkey drunk driver. He had a long history of drunk donkey driving. People had been hurt by it, but he still continued to do it. He was in the ditch because of his addiction. What does it mean to be a neighbor to that man? Maybe, just maybe, that ditch is where he needs to be until he realizes the truth: his addiction brought him there.
We have people in our midst who have problems that you and I can’t solve. In an effort to get their needs met, they may ask us to play “Good Samaritan” to them. But doing so may not be in their interest. Doing so may just enable them to avoid the truth of their situation that much longer. To their peril, or that of others.
How will we know what to do?
You don’t know the other person’s situation, but you know yours. Be ready in advance with clarity about what you and are not comfortable doing for someone else. Ask yourself why you are helping, really? And let your answer be guided by truth.
Sometimes saying no, and NOT playing Good Samaritan is what is best. But it will make you feel “unchristian”.
The person seeking help may say something like that to you. I cant tell you how many times I've been told, "You're no Christian!"
Even Jesus was called Satan. You can take it. Walk on by. This is not, I repeat, NOT, an invitation to not care for people. It is a challenge to all of us to care more effectively.
You are not the Savior. I am not the Savior. As Candace Plattor, a clinical counselor at an addiction center, puts it: You cannot control or “fix” another person. So stop trying. She goes on to say:
“The only person you have any control over is yourself. You do not have control over anything the addicted person does. Many people choose not to believe this, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Once you can really grasp the reality of this concept and live by it, your life will become much easier.”
I join you in praying that we will always respond with love and concern to those in crisis or in need. It is NEVER wrong to give someone food, water, or help provide for their basic needs. But love may call us to a tougher action than meeting the need. Love might call us to walk away.
St. Paul’s has been in existence in Carondelet for over 150 years. That’s a long time to be in continuous community! The church was founded by four prominent local families who were tired of riding in their carriages all the way to Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday mornings, in snow, heat or rain. They saw the Carondelet neighborhood growing, and they longed for an Episcopal church here. From that humble beginning, into a small wooden church, to the current building, our congregation has cycled between seasons of growth, retraction, adaptation, and growth again. There were a few decades, not so long ago, when the Rector, Liew Heigham, begged the bishop to keep the doors open. Thanks be to God, the doors stayed open, and consistent growth is happening!
Today, we are facing almost unprecedented change. Being a Christian is a minority identity; one which many of us prefer to phrase in other ways (Jesus followers is our Presiding Bishop’s favorite). No longer does anyone attend church to “be seen”, or to network, or to fulfill some societal or family obligation. Personally, I’m delighted that’s the case. Now, we are doing what Margaret Wheatley is naming: effectively gathering to act on what we care about; actions based on our values and faith.
Here are examples of our values and faith in action:
On June 18, three of the five members of your Requiem and Renaissance team began our journey as liaisons between the Diocese and St. Paul's. Through this program, we’ll be leading St Paul’s as we continue in revitalization. This will look a lot like “discovering what we care about”. The above bullet points are mile markers in the journey so far.
In the coming months, you'll be invited to engage in questions and conversation that help us gain momentum and clarity on next steps and new steps. Don’t let the name, Requiem or Renaissance make you nervous! This process is not about closing the church! It’s about lovingly saying goodbye to the old ways that no longer apply and walking into new life in community. I’m so excited to be on this journey with you!
Two weekends ago, I saw Coldplay perform at Soldier Field in Chicago. The above photo is the view from our seats. Over 61,000 people sang songs about love, about having a Higher Power, and other lyrics that were joyful and uplifting. 61,000 of us raised our hands in the air and crooned to each other. It was amazing.
Then the show was over and we all streamed out of the stadium. Walking along shoulder to shoulder, the whole connection vanished. As an experiment, I started humming the refrain from the concert that all 61,000 people had sung. Heck, we just sang it a few minutes ago. We were all TOGETHER as one giant voice.
But no, not one single person joined in singing with me. They just gave me the side-eye or nothing at all. We couldn't recapture the connection.
A Coldplay concert is not church. Did anyone doubt that? I hear you say, 'church is not nearly that fun.' I agree! But, both have music that lifts us and reminds us of our connection to one other and, sometimes, to God.
Some brilliant person said, The person who sings prays twice.
I bet you have your favorite musicians. Are they supporting your life of faith? I hope so! Remember Jesus' criterion: If they aren't against us, they're for us (Mark 9:38-41). When we sing together, with whomever we sing with, are we moving past the feels of positivity and putting love into action? If not, why not?
The worst thing we can possibly do is sip on the love-tonic, and not let its healing flow through our lives out to others. As Chris Martin, the lead singer for Coldplay puts it, "I'd rather be a comma than at full stop". God's purpose for us is to be a comma, always ready for love, kindness, collaboration, creativity.
I pray that where ever you are, and whose ever songs you are singing, you are carrying the love and hope of God and modeling it in your life. That is the true Music of the Spheres and when we do it together, in word and action, we're church.
--- Pastor Rebecca
This Summer, I will have the opportunity to fire a gun for the first time. Our family is going to a “Dude Ranch” for my mom and dad’s 80th birthday party. I’m imagining myself putting a rifle to my shoulder – and possibly changing my mind! Oh the loud bang!
The idea of learning to target shoot is fun! Skeet shooting, hunting, target shooting, collecting antique guns… these reasons to own or use a gun seem completely acceptable and even important rights. Yet, we Americans are paying a tremendous price in lives lost because of the availability, abuse and right to use guns.
Guns + Bible = Sword
Since the gun did not exist during Biblical times, the best equivalent is the sword. Interestingly, the sword makes its appearance most often in three ways:
1. Jesus’ arrest (Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-50, Luke 22:47-53, and John 18:11)
2. As a metaphor for faith in Jesus and its divisive power (Matthew 10:28-39, Hebrews 4:12, Ephesians 6:17)
3. Literal use (Romans 8:35, Revelation 13:10)
I understand these scriptures to mean: weapons and acts of violence are always with us, but they are not a part of the Christian life. Jesus never condoned the taking of a life – not even for criminals (ie. woman caught in adultery). Read these texts and consider them for yourself.
Christians in the first three hundred years after Jesus, were persecuted in large part because they were pacifists. They refused to join the military, they refused to pick up a weapon even to defend themselves against an attacker. They died in large numbers in the Roman Coliseum because they wouldn’t fight the gladiators. Instead, they were fed to the lions instead. Their relinquishment and faith in the face of a violent death in front of literally thousands of witnesses did more to evangelize the Roman Empire than almost anything else. Hence, eventually, Emperor Constantine in 312 CE decided, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Christians only became militant as Christianity became a part of the empire. Scripture is replete with reminders that those who live by the sword, die by the sword. A country that lives by the gun, dies by it. Over and over. This is not a simple issue. People feel deeply about it. I, personally, do not. So, from my place, it looks obvious that gun control should take precedence over access. But you may feel differently.
I think we all know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We all agree in theory that giving a depressed person a gun is a horrible idea. But what if that person is your brother? You know him, he’s complicated, and he wants a gun for his birthday. What if your friends is a hunter and has guns? When she starts getting paranoid and ranting about a government conspiracy to take her guns, what is your obligation? It all gets murky really fast.
As your pastor, I beg you, bring your passion and ideas about gun ownership and legislation to God. Ask your higher power, Jesus Christ, what God’s will is for you in this area? Prayerfully place your position about guns before God. Ask that trivial but incredibly deep question, “what would Jesus do?” and listen for the answer. Then, go and do likewise.
--- Pastor Rebecca
Our short life-span, limited bodies and brains, inevitably doom us to ignorance and some level of inaction. We simply don't KNOW everything, and we certainly can't DO everything. We have to make choices about what to focus on and learn about. So how do we avoid ignorance and apathy?
Short answer: Good luck with that. We can't.
My favorite prayer of Jesus is the one he gives from the cross. As the ignorance, apathy, hatred and violence of humans has caused his execution, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Emphasis mine). Luke 23:34
What we know or don’t know, what we do or don’t do, carries unbelievable implications. In the face of climate change, a global refugee crisis and famines, the more we learn, the more overwhelming it can be. Which can lead to apathy!
This Sunday, the sermon speculates on what it meant to be an Egyptian during the time of the Exodus. What were the regular folks doing and thinking? How come it took them 10 plagues, boils, death and darkness to finally make an appearance? And how do we learn from their mistakes?
St. John Crysostom gives us words of hope:
Sin is followed by shame.
Repentance is followed by boldness.
We see that kind of boldness in the disciples. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they showed courage, in even when persecuted by the powerful.
In a world of wars and wildfires, as tornadoes tear through and waters rise, we can’t allow ignorance and apathy. It’s our time for courage. There is no need for fear. There is only need for informed and purposeful action steeped and sustained by love.
Let’s be disciples who listen, follow and act for justice in our places and spaces. That’s exactly what the world needs! Join us on Sunday, and see where the Holy Spirit calls you to act.
-- Pastor Rebecca
In Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism, author, Amanda Montell, describes the rise of a demographic group called “Remixers”. The above quote gives you a description.
Do you know a “Remixer”? Maybe it’s a friend or relative who has decided against “organized religion” but still participates a variety of religious practices. Jesus, in Matthew 13, told a parable about a sower who threw seeds for planting. Some fell on rocky ground, some on the path, some in a weedy area, and some in fertile ground.
Jesus explains the parable. And he says this: “The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away." (Matthew 13:20-21).
A lot of remixers I know are really into the spiritual power of rocks. No problem with that. But a bespoke spiritual practice may not be robust enough to hold someone through seasons of suffering and sorrow. As Jesus puts it, they might, "quickly fall away."
Our role as the church is to welcome the spiritual seekers in our world by sharing the hope we have in Christ, our Good Shepherd. It's not about forcing others to conform with our expectations, it's about sharing the bread we've found with others who are hungry.
As you spend time with the remixers in your life, prayerfully discern how to “root” with them in the grace, love and joy of a relationship with God, their Higher Power. Remixers may use a name for God that we're not used to. The name that matters most is love - and love is found most perfectly in Jesus. So, whether the people we connect with need a remix, reboot, or re-up, let’s share the joy we know – through the door of organized religion, yes, but more importantly in our relationship to the person of Jesus Christ.
-- Pastor Rebecca
Christians have always gone all out for Easter. Not long ago, all the churches were packed out at Easter and everyone had on their Sunday best. Probably, any church that could manage it had a big choir anthem and recruited members of the local brass band. Afterward, folks went home to big meals and kids gleefully searched for Easter eggs in the back yard.
This Easter, St. Paul’s is returning to the heart of the celebration: Jesus’ resurrection. We’re focusing on the sweetness of old-fashioned community. We’ll have a reception and egg hunt (hopefully on the lawn), and we’ll savor being together and being a part of Easter hope. It’s an Easter to celebrate in our own creative and honest ways. If you wear shorts and a T-shirt to the service, that’s perfectly fine. You won’t be alone. If you feel like bringing some flowers from your yard to decorate the altar area, great! If you want to bring your (small) pooch disguised as a rabbit, no problem.
What makes Easter precious and joyful is that we are together in the love and life-giving power of God. We don’t need a brass choir to hype that, it’s already extraordinary. So if you have a post-Christian friend who might not come to the big to-do, invite them to St. Paul’s. It’s gong to be a very special day.
An imagined letter from Simon. (as recounted in Luke 7:36-50)
To Joseph bar Benjamin, my dear brother
From Simon the Pharisee
Greetings in the name of the Lord most High.
As you have heard rumors of what went on in my house
And sent inquiries about it,
I am writing to set the story straight.
Indeed it was the most extraordinary dinner I have ever hosted and I am happy to tell you about it. The rumor you have heard though is wrong on several accounts. I urge you to correct the falsehoods that are circulating and, as much as it may upset you to do so, set the record straight.
First off, let me be clear. The angels appearing in the sky over the house? That part did not happen. There was no celestial activity whatsoever. I assure you. And no shepherds appeared with their sheep. I don’t know where that came from.
So let me start from the beginning.
I had been fascinated by this Jesus of Nazareth for some long while as you know. The other Pharisees on the council speak of him with deep scorn and ridicule, but I was curious. I’d heard of his miracles and wanted to give him a fair hearing. So I sent a servant to invite him to dine with me when he was in town.
I was careful not to treat him in high regard, knowing that every move I made would be watched. If I treated him too well, with too much respect, my council would come down hard. You know how they are, Joseph. I invited a few of the more influential among them to join me at the dinner. It was a small affair, maybe forty people or so.
As the meal ended, we were all reclined there at the table.
I was sitting on one side of Jesus, the head of the council on the other. I could not help but be offended by him. This Jesus is a peasant, unlearned, poorly dressed, and homely, yet he treated me and the head of the council as if we were equals! As if he could speak to us from a learned place! At times, it was all I could do not lean over and slap him. I confess to you, there was something about him that made me feel so deeply uneasy. Even before, the incident with the woman, he was difficult. He made one feel as if they were standing on uneven ground. And yet, at the same time, he was fascinating.
Do you know, we had a small quartet between the final courses of the meal. They were lively in their playing. And he asked me would I dance? As if I would dance, there in front of the head of my council? Of course I said no. But he signaled to his friends, (I had the courtesy to invite some of them) and they rose and danced. As if it was their own house and they could do what they wanted! He even laughed out loud! Loudly! With great pleasure. As if it was his house not mine! Scandalous.
Then he sat down and looked at me as if this was all perfectly fine. I remember thinking he must be possessed of the devil to not know right behavior from wrong.
It was all quite…upsetting.
And this woman slipped in. All who dwell in this town know her. Or, more correctly, I should say, know of her. You know her too. Remember Sarah’s daughter? The one who was sold to that Roman Merchant? The one with the scars on her arms? Yes, it was her. It’s true she was cruelly treated. Thrown into the street after that merchant was jailed. But her sins! They are a stench in the nostrils of the Almighty! Prostituting in this city all these years! Drunken and passed out in corners. Half naked and filthy!
My wife has always been especially offended by these vile women. She has taken the honorable path of leading the women’s guild in finding such women in acts of abomination and bringing God’s swift justice for their sins. I’m not sure how Sarah’s daughter escaped death.
But there in the midst of our dinner, she appeared. A hush fell over the whole large space. The shadows flickered, the oil lamps gave off their smoke and fumes, only their hiss could be heard. She knelt at Jesus’ feet.
I won’t disgust you with the details of her wretched behavior. It was enough to make us all wish to vomit. I have never in my life had such an abomination happen under my roof. My wife ran from the room, as you can imagine.
But this man, this charlatan posing as a representative of the most High,
Watched her calmly. As if she was removing a splinter or sweeping up the floor. He did not blush, he did not kick her in the face, (as he should have). He let her touch him. He even looked at her with love. As if he knew her. Do you hear me? Knew her!
And then he asked me that question. I’m sure you heard all about that interchange. Oh, I wish to heaven that I had never invited this man into my house.
How dare he ever have the nerve to ask me!
Obviously, he did not know who I am.
I, the second most influential man in this town.
Of a long heritage of righteous and godly rabbis.
Faithful to honor the Sabbath. Faithful in keeping every command.
And he compared me to a prostitute.
Let me be clear.
He watched this filthy woman for a long while in silence. While everyone else watched in horror. And then he said. Out loud, in front of everyone. He asked to me: A certain creditor had two debtors: one owed 500 denarii and the other owed 50. When they could not pay he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?”
“Of course it is the one with the greater debt forgiven.” I answered.
But then he went on to shame me in front of all my guests. He said,
Simon, when I arrived here, you did not kiss me,
or wash my feet, you did not anoint my head,
and yet this woman has done so much more. She has washed my feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, she kissed my feet, which is disgusting indeed, and she anointed me with perfume.
He let that foul woman be honored over me in my very own house!
And then, may heaven forgive me for the abomination I brought upon my household,
He pronounced the forgiveness of that woman’ s sins.
My brother, what you heard is true. This man had the audacity to say to that Harlot, Your sins are forgiven.
Right there on my dining room floor.
Then she stood up, bowed, and left.
I admit we were all so astonished, so offended, there was not one who could move.
He told her to go in peace. But there have been none of us who remain in peace in my house Joseph.
He sowed the whirlwind.
That woman walks the street with her head high.
There is no way to remove her now. She has not committed another offense. My wife has become obsessed with a desire to destroy her, to catch her in some act of wickedness. It is shameful how she cannot stop talking about Sarah’s daughter. Yet I will confess, I cannot stop this anger in my heart. I ushered Jesus out as quickly as I could. I apologized to the Council members. We have talked over the matter. It is all settled, his heresy, his appalling behavior. But the ground continues to shake. The way he looked at her. The way he treated me as an equal. The things he said. For the whole thing. I will not forgive him.
Most of the blog articles are written by our Rector, The Rev. Rebecca Ragland