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.
Recently, Deacon Barbi and I joined four other Christian ministry groups from the east side of Carondelet. When we went around the room describing the strengths of our communities, Deacon Barbi gave her assessment of St. Paul’s. The words she used struck a chord among all of us in the room. She said that St. Paul’s greatest strength was its “unbridled joy”.
I had not thought of us as unbridled in our joyfulness. Unhinged perhaps, but unbridled?
What a beautiful thing to think about!
To me, unbridled means, we’re getting over ourselves and our need to project a competence and perfection that is untrue of any human being. We’re not hiding behind a façade of being "under control". Instead, we feel free to roam in the wideness and mercy of God’s love and forgiveness for us. We have fun, play and laugh, even in the midst of our pain and the seriousness of the situation.
Joy is that sweet treasure that doesn’t require the perfect environment in order to grow. It is able to shine through the prism of our tears; it surprises us in the midst of our challenges.
Thank you for being a part of the joyful life of St. Paul’s. It is a gift to journey with you and celebrate the freedom and love God bestows so generously on us all!
I’m so grateful to be your pastor,
A Poem Written In response:
At St. Paul's we have found unbridled joy to behold.
Within our hearts love for each other does unfold.
No one is better than and no one is seen as less.
Our church is filled with lots of love and happiness.
We have abundant love for every man, woman, girl or boy.
We come through get her with God's glory to employ.
We give helping hands, ready hugs and we smile a lot.
Come to us as a stranger, but when you leave, you're NOT.
Written by Sue Steptoe
(Inspired by Barbi)
As may be typical in this life, one crisis got elbowed out by another. Goodbye frontpage COVID news, hello frontpage War in Ukraine news. Not to mention so many other concerns that haunt our days. As is also typical of this life, one beautiful thing gave way to another. The stark beauty of winter is softening into the great glory of spring.
In the Bible, there are guidelines for marking transitions. Many of them are holy days (holidays) or sacramental celebrations. But there are other ways as well. God seems insistent that we take note of transitions. Over and over, God calls us to remember. Remember that we are dust. (Remember that one?!?) Remember the exodus, remember me, says Jesus. Marking and honoring these milestones is important! Are you doing it?
When the people of Israel crossed the Jordan, when Jacob woke from a divine dream, they marked their experience is a specific way. As a part of our spiritual formation, we follow their pattern. Doing so deepens our faith and serves our mental health.
Perhaps today you have the blues because the event you looked forward to for soooooo long happened. And it was great, but now there are just memories. Perhaps you are past the anguish of grief or illness but are unsure how to name where you are. Our tradition offers you resources to make meaning.
Here are a few steps to help you name the transition and honor it as a place God has brought you to-and-through. Adapt these steps to your own interests, skills and proclivities:
On January 26, I participated in a conversation with bishops, priests and lay People from across the Episcopal Church listening to reports from our delegates to COP 21 – the climate summit in Glasgow.
The reports were fascinating and hopeful. But the sense of urgency is acute. The message the church needs to be sharing and standing on is: We’ve got 8 years to prevent warming beyond 1.5 degrees celsius.
That’s good news! 8 years is do-able. It’s manageable. Plus, the movement has already begun. Corporations, governments and communities are finally seeing that it is in their self-interest to pivot and change. Think of how much growth a human experiences in 8 years. We’re talking about billions of people, ready for that kind of change.
Here at St. Paul’s, we are also already on the move. We’re making changes and adjustments to our way of life so that we can do our part to mitigate climate change. Here are some more things we can do together:
Psalm 46 says, “God is our refuge and our strength…though the earth be moved, and waters rage and foam, the Lord is our stronghold.”
The Holy One is in the midst of us, let’s do all we can to support the life and abundance that God created and human hands have harmed. It’s holy work!
-- Pastor Rebecca
Last month, your vestry unanimously supported a new outreach to our neighbors called, La Misa.
La Misa is a program, initiated by TryTank/Virginia Theological Seminary and the national church, that equips congregations to invite neighbors who are culturally shaped by ancestry or immigration from South or Central America or Puerto Rico. St. Paul’s is located in the center of a vibrant and growing community that includes these neighbors.
La Misa, will equip us to welcome and incorporate those who are specifically looking for liturgical worship with progressive social policy and theology. That's us!
We anticipate that this ministry will begin to unfold during the spring through training in cultural sensitivity, and the raising up of a team that will lead us in the invitation and incorporation component. In addition, we may be receiving a newly ordained priest to assist us in this project.
Please be prayerful about your role in this new ministry. James Ammon is serving as interim team captain. Speak to him about ideas and ways you want to participate.
I am delighted to be a part of St Paul’s during this important time. This is our year to widen our welcome to all of God’s people!
St. Paul’s is so blessed to have received several significant bequests that have been invested and monitored through a fund called the Diocesan Investment Trust (DIT). The total value of these funds as of November 30, 2021, is $480,533. This amount fluctuates with the market, but we have diversified between stocks and bonds as a way of protecting our investment from the vicissitudes of the market while optimizing our interest income.
Now, speaking as possibly the most mathematically challenged member of the congregation, (better perhaps than Iris and Charles of the 2 year old department), here’s the deal: we are spending into the principal of our investment fund. The way I think about it, it’s like eating the lettuce in your garden. If you take bits of it off, it will keep growing and replacing itself. If you take too much, it doesn’t grow as well and takes longer to replace what was lost. If you pull it out by the roots, no more lettuce. Same deal with this fund.
We have been withdrawing from the principal because we’ve had to. By faith, we’re believing that our congregational giving will continue to increase so that the practice can stop.
So far, year after year, our giving is growing. And significantly.
Last year was the first time the Vestry and Treasurer conveyed the reality of our financial situation to the whole parish. This year, at Annual Meeting, our treasurer will again make this situation really clear. And she will use math!
As your Rector, I’m not losing any sleep over our situation. St. Paul’s is in God’s hands, and even if we were to lose all the money in our bequest, we would continue, by faith, to survive. However, it’s important that we all know our financial status, because we share the responsibility for our life together.
Let’s continue to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us and grow us. All that we have and all that we are is a part of our life in Christ. With that clear commitment at our center, we will be well.
-- Pastor Rebecca
Recently, a survey was given to those who attend our Thursday to-go meals. The survey asked what their pressing needs were. 12 people filled out the survey. Of those who responded, health care - including access to dental and vision was listed as a pressing concern. In response to the surveys, we created resource lists to assist our guests. What a wonderful thing to be able to say, 'all of your healthcare needs can be met one block away!'
The Family Health Center on the corner of Michigan and Holy Hills, was founded through the collaborative efforts of the community, including St. Paul's. The clinic serves the insured and under-insured. They have been essential to providing COVID testing and vaccinations through this pandemic. And, they offer vision and dental care along with standard health care for the whole person.
Knowing the integral relationship that our guests and neighbors have with Family Care Center, I have self-nominated to join their board of directors. Next week, I'll be having lunch the Board Chair, Wilma Schmitz. As we host the installation of air quality monitors on our building in January, this partnership may prove invaluable. Together, we are strengthening our church community and making a difference in Carondelet.
-- Pastor Rebecca
As a priest, I’m always curious about shows featuring religious folk. That’s how I fell down the rabbit hole of Midnight Mass, a new horror/drama series on Netflix created and directed by Mike Flanagan, a former altar boy.
The 7 part limited series released in September, 2021 introduces us to Riley Flynn. Riley is returning to his familial home after spending four years in prison. With Riley, we enter the fishing community of Crockett Island. Riley’s return coincides with the arrival of a strange new priest, who has replaced the old monsignor at St. Patrick’s. It is these two arrivals that drive the series to its apocalyptic end.
Midnight Mass checks all the boxes for a horror film. The long shadow of evil stretches from the opening scenes into the intimate stories of the characters. The characters are surrounded by hints of violence and evil while still holding space for the good and mundane. By the time evil appears at the altar of St. Patrick’s, we are well prepared. Watching blood pour into a chalice is more sinister and sacred than most of us want to admit.
If you are an easily offended Christian, you’ll want to take a pass on this series. But if you are a person of faith willing to watch a a slow-burn horror film, Midnight Mass will meet your expectations for the genre and leave you with food for thought.
The series doesn’t demonize or disgrace people. The two Muslims and many Christians on Crockett Island are portrayed with honesty and respect. They are allowed to catastrophically fail and still find grace. In the extremity of their choices and the gruesomeness of their behaviors, we find a timeless morality tale.
As only this genre can do, suffering and death are pervasive in the plot. If the characters aren’t talking about it (and they do, a lot), they’re full gushing in it. But the true issue is how each one responds when evil emerges in the very places they call good. Like I said, a timeless morality tale. In the blurry goodness of hymn singing and candles, sermons and stories, the parishioners at St. Patrick’s become victims of sedated faith. The congregation’s willingness to hide all the warning signs in altar cloth and bible verses leaves them unprepared for the horror spawned among them.
Thank God, the source of the horror in this series is completely fantastical. But we have only to look around to see how abusive leaders and their misuse of their “sheeple” can be deadly. Faithful to the Christian tradition, Midnight Mass reminds us: death is not the last word, nor the worst outcome. It’s our choices that hold the greatest terror.
In the long history of the Church, men have held positions of leadership and power at all levels. This was as much true at St. Paul's as it was anywhere. In fact, as far as I can tell, I am the second female Rector. The first female lasted for about a year.
Now, not only do we have a female rector, we have a female deacon, and much of the leadership you see up front each week is female. That's great! Our vestry is comprised almost entirely of men, so there is good representation there. But, I don't want to commit a sin against men that was made against women. I'm talking about the sin of marginalization. While we would all agree that everyone belongs and should find support and voice in our community, to really achieve belonging, we need to be intentional to make space and create opportunities. We need to encourage men who might hang back, and, maybe, we need to create safe space for men to be together.
I've been listening to a podcast called, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. It's a deep dive into what happened at a Mega Church in Seattle when their outspoken pastor cultivated an environment of toxic masculinity with himself as the most toxic. Men were attracted to the church because it affirmed their value in their families, careers and Christ's Kingdom. But the message was wrapped in images of domination and misogyny. I wonder, how can we affirm and value men without the toxicity? Men are critically important in their relationships, families, careers, and Church - as are women, and folx who identify as neither or both. So how do we ensure that you, our St. Paul's men, are included?
I invite you to go to comment here, on our Blog page. Respond with your thoughts and opinions. Whatever your gender, share yourideas on how we might avoid marginalizing or de-valuing men at St. Paul's. Click the button below to get right to the spot.
It has been over a year since we were together regularly in person. Things have changed. We've changed. How do we strengthen our common bonds? Here are a few suggestions: