Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sermon from September 4

September 4, 2016
Choosing Life

Labor Day weekend marks to end of the summer season, and with it the pace of the church schedule quickens as we resume Sunday School and our choirs next week and begin offering programing for the year.  We will gather next Sunday right after the two services to hear a report from the feasibility study on Harris Hall. Our Senior Warden will outline the Vestry’s recommendations.   It’s time to move forward.

And with Labor Day upon on, we are entering the final two months of this election cycle. Finally.  Many of us are ready for the campaign to be over. Especially this campaign.  

Even if and when people get discouraged and cynical about politics and elections – many will ask themselves if their vote matters.  I believe it does.  Our system is far from perfect.  Candidates are flawed. But people should not sit out this or any election.  I think of our companion parish in Cuba, whose people would jump at the chance to vote in a real election that gives them a voice and help shape their future.  Such are both the responsibilities and burdens of living in this country. 

So much for my civic minded introductions in today’s message.   

Democracy, as we know it today in America, is worlds away from world of Moses and Jesus, when prophets, pharaohs, kings and emperors help power. Yet the idea of choosing was built into the fabric of faith in God. 

For Moses, he had led the people only so far and knew that he would not see their future.  He attempted to lie out the options before them. 
 
Deuteronomy 30:15-16: See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.

But, and there is always a but,  v.17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear,” but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them” then your life will be a ruin.  No Promised Land.   Problems for you and your family as far as the eye can see. 

A clear set of choices: life, God, blesses vs. ruin, false gods and death.  As the late great prophet Yogi Berra once said: “When you come to a fork in the road, just take it.” I vote then for the first option: I choose life, God and blessings. 

Then how do get from Moses to Jesus? 

How do we go from – “choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days” -- to Jesus saying to the crowd: Luke 14: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus, who is attracting crowds and offers the most Jesus sounding call ever, where the choices are laid out in radically different terms.  Gone is the promise of big families and blessings.  “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.  None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

I saw a T-Shirt last week with a picture of Jesus on the front with the words: “I didn’t say that.”    But he did say these things.  He went there. About hating one’s family and life itself.  About giving it all away.

It feels less like a fork in the road and more like getting pushed to the edge of the cliff and asked to jump with no safely net.   Perhaps that’s the point.

Some have said that Jesus was just trying to see if the crowds were really there for him or, like many of today’s political rallies, just there for the show.  Prophets, after all, often attract the curious and the joiners.  His words are so disruptive and challenging that in times the crowds would probably thin out. 

Dietrich Bonheoffer, the German Lutheran pastor who was murdered for standing up again the Nazis, said this: “To follow Jesus gives us no intelligible program for a way of life, no goal or ideal to strive after.  The disciples leave everything they have. They burn their boats and go ahead. They are dragged out of their relative security into a life of absolute insecurity.”

You and I are not Moses. We are not Peter, James, Mary and Paul.  We are not fighting the Nazis.  We are going to work and school. Raising kids and visiting grandkids. Going to more doctors’ appointments than we wished we were.  Hanging onto memories.  Coming to church. Living life one day at a time.  Yet even in our seeming un-dramatic and ordinary lives, you and I still have choices to make.

This cross that Jesus wants up to carry… I wish I could tell you what it should mean for you.  To me the cross is the present I cannot control and the future I cannot avoid or deny. It is pain, loss, separation and emptiness. The cross is where God gets real.

At the very least, Jesus now has our attention.  So: live your life.  Not an imagined and idealized life, but a real life.  Not someone else’s life that we think is better and more exciting than our own, but the life we are called to lead.   

And then follow Jesus.  Choose light over darkness, mercy over vengeance, forgiveness over revenge, love over hatred.  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Summer of 2016

A lot has happened since mid-May.  My son Will graduated from college. His fiancee Naylet arrived from Cuba. My daughter Lydia returned from her academic year in Spain. We went to work on planning a wedding for July 30. We said goodbye to Max, our beloved dog of 17 years (that was awful). Now in August I'm finding that I'm still recovering from it all.  So no deep thoughts. No sermons. Just some pictures for this blog.  
TheToast to the Bride and Groom 
Naylet and Will July 30 Christ Church in Exeter, NH

Best dog in the world in his favorite position

Friday, July 15, 2016

Neighbors

The Good Samaritan

In the state of New Hampshire where I live, “if any person, in good faith, renders emergency care at the place of the happening on an emergency, and if the acts of care are made in good faith and without willful or wanton negligence, the person who renders the care is not liable in civil damages for his acts or omissions in rendering the care.  Any person rendering emergency care shall have the duty to place the injured person under the care of a physician, nurse, or other person qualified to care for such person as soon as possible and to obey the instructions of such qualified person.”

This protection is called the Good Samaritan Law.

The parable of the Good Samaritan, along with that of the Prodigal Son, are perhaps the two best known stories that Jesus told that capture the essence of living a faithful life.  It is also one that in many ways preaches itself. 

In this parable, an expect in the Law, asks for clarity and certainty from Jesus about who it is that he should love as much as God with his whole heart, soul, strength and mind. 

“And who is my neighbor?” he asked.  “The one who showed mercy to the man who fell into the hands of robbers and was left to die.” 

Should events in the world today shape the gospel message and or should the gospel message shape world events?

I don’t know about you: but I’m growing weary.  I am not hopeless, for to live without hope would be to deny who we are as Christians.  We are people of resurrection.

Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Holocaust at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, died a week ago.  A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, he was a moral giant who implored the world to never forget.

Wiesel tells the story in one of his many novels of a boy named Michael who was haunted by the image of the man in his village who watched from a window above the square where Jews were being rounded up to be taken away to concentration camps. 

Weisel wrote: This, this was the thing I wanted to understand ever since the war. Nothing else. How a human being can remain indifferent. The executioners I understood: also the victims, though with more difficulty. For the others, all the others, those who were neither for nor against, those who sprawled in passive patience, those who told themselves, “The storm will blow over and everything will be normal again,” those who thought themselves about the battle, those who were permanently and merely spectators – all those were closed to me…. How can anyone remain a spectator indefinitely?   (from The Town Beyond the Wall) 

The Samaritan in the parable made a choice. He would not be a spectator.  He did what he could.  He came near.  He stopped. He cared. He bandaged the man’s wounds and brought him to safety. 

The late theologian Robert Webber liked to say, the future of the church is ancient.

Perhaps this ancient story has some wisdom for you and me in troubled times when our nation is on edge. 

We have an obligation to each other.   We cannot be just spectators.

So, who is my neighbor? 

Alton Sterling

Philando Castile

The five fallen in Dallas:

Lorne Ahrens

Michael Krol

Michael Smith

Brent Thompson

Patrick Zamarippa



Monday, June 13, 2016

Orlando

Each Sunday morning before coming into church I check the New York Times website. What happened overnight? What news might color the morning's worship? An earthquake half way around the world, the death of a world leader, or perhaps some other disaster closer to home? Whom and what should we pray for. 

By the time I prayed at around 8:25 a.m. yesterday, it became clear to me that many had not heard the news about the mass killings in Orlando overnight. I had heard there were 20 casualties, which is beyond horrific. By the time church services ended by 11:00 a.m., the number of dead had climbed to 50. 50+ injured.  No words.  

We seem to be in no-man's land when it comes to these mass shootings. The record player is stuck. We react that way react. We diagnose the perpetrator and ills and brokenness in our society. We become expects on Islam. And global terrorism.  And we want to crawl into bed and take a long nap.  

I don't know what the way out of all of this is for our nation.  Post-Newtown made me a realistic if not total cynic about the power of the NRA to control the narrative and Congress to fall in line.  I thought rooms of murdered children would create change: it did not. 

May God call us out the corners we revert to into situations of horrific violence.  Yes, we are numb and tired of these events being routine. So what can we do. 

Pray for the victims.  Pray for our nation.  Get informed. Vote your conscience.  Act as you are moved. Donate blood. Sign up to help shelter the homeless.  Drop off items to a food pantry. Smile at the cashier.  Take a walk. Sit in silence. Give thanks for green leaves filling the trees.

Be part of creation.  Be humble.  Listen. Leave room for tears, remembrances, joy, tolerance, pride and God's sense of justice.  

Lord have mercy.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Returning to Cuba

A Return to Cuba in April, 2016
The People of St. Francis, Cardenas 
In early April 14 travelers from New Hampshire spent one week in Cuba. For some in the group, it was a second and even third visit in three years to the island nation. Christ Church in Exeter is a companion parish of St. Francis of Assisi church in Cardenas.  St. John’s in Portsmouth sent four of its parishioners on this latest trip and has been wonderful partners in this ministry. 

What draws us to Cuba and keeps us returning is the clear sense that we learn something new each time about the faith and resilience of the people we meet.  The worship experiences in Cardenas are uplifting and inspiring.  We have come to see one another as family.  The Episcopal Church in Cuba is currently working to find a canonical way to return to being a part of the Episcopal Church again (it was made autonomous, not of its choosing, in the mid-1960’s as the two nations grew further apart politically and economically).

Our trip came only days after President Obama made his historical visit to the island, signally an end the Cold War time warp that so characterized the last five decades.  By chance and good fortune our group ate at the same small restaurant in Old Havana as did the President with his family. The question on many Cubans’ minds was apparent: will life really change in any noticeable way from closer ties to the U.S.?  Will the sense of hope in the air be dashed yet again, as Cuba’s own leaders fail to respond to the new opening and make meaningful changes in the economy and human rights that improve peoples’ lives? 

We encountered many Americans trying to get to Cuba before the flood gates of tourists open up and spoil and change what so many have been captivated with but unable to see up close: the frozen in time look of today’s Cuba looking like the 1960’s with fleets of classic American filling the streets.  It is clear that Cuba is not capable of handling the quantity of tourists ready to come ashore. 

One change from our visit in 2015 was the sight of public Wi-Fi spaces springing up in the center of cities and towns. Smart phones, brought in by visiting relatives or purchased with hard-earned convertible Cuban pesos, lit up the evenings as adults, teens and even children chatted with friends and did what many seek to have the freedom and right to: waste their time and money online!  Cubans, like youthful populations around the world, are an aspirational people who want to be connected, to eat out in a restaurant, to listen to music and to be lifted out from even a few hours from their very mundane and ordinary lives. 

Our mission purpose was to continue our ongoing project of bringing and installing water purification systems. Clean drinking water is of key concern for many in Cuba as the infrastructure has been neglected and water-born illnesses continue to grow.  This year we worked collaboratively with Rotary International, especially the Exeter Rotary Club, to purchase and transport seven systems – a group of ten Rotarians arrived in Cuba as we departed.   Rotary raised over $9000 for the project. We successfully navigated the systems safely through customs and Rotary was able to install three systems and sent the others to the interior region of the country where few groups are able to visit.  It will be our responsibility to provide a supply of replacement parts and new filters to the systems until the time comes when trade and commerce open between the U.S. and Cuba. 

One breakthrough and highlight of the trip was the openness of a government-owned clinic in the small town on Limonar in Matanzas province to receive a water system and the large donation of medical supplies. The local Episcopal church worked with a representative of the Communist Party and clinic officials to make the project possible.  From my 30 years experience in Cuba, this kind of contact would not have been successful even a few years ago.

We pray and hope that our relationship with Cuba will grow and flourish for years to come.


Mark B. Pendleton
Meeting staff of Clinic in Limonar where system would be installed 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter Day Sermon 2016: Easter Joy and Tears

Easter Joy and Tears

Have you heard about the latest, hottest thing sweeping the nation? It is the Helicopter Easter egg drop.  You can see signs around the Seacoast at traffic lights. The practice looks to have started by so-called mega churches in the South and then brought to New England. With thousands of members attending their services, the clergy realized they could never organize a traditional Easter egg hunt -- too labor intensive. So they came up with an idea to hire a helicopter and have 10K, 20K up to 100,000 plastic eggs filled with candy and other surprises dropped from 150 feet up in the air.  The more people that would come could lead to more people hearing the message of Easter.  Maybe. Today it is not just mega churches dropping eggs by the thousands: whole towns and communities are getting in on the act.

I came across one headline from Mississippi – just from this past week:  “Chaos at Easter Egg Drop.”  Seems like the organizers of the event under estimated the number of children they expected to show up and the amount of eggs that would be needed to be tossed out of helicopter. Just so you can visualize, the eggs do not drop right on top of the kids, but in a secure field near by.  And then the kids are told to start the hunt and they rush in.

The article (Sun Herald March 20, 2016) stated that “excited, bright-eyed children hoped to fill their baskets with plastic eggs containing treats or cards for larger prizes, such as bicycles. There were equally excited parents, including many who ignored repeated instructions to stay off the outfield and let children hunt by themselves.

Many children in the youngest age division, 2 to 4, found no eggs at all. Others walked off the field with overflowing baskets. In the next age division, some parents sneaked in older children to hunt eggs with much smaller children. Some children cried. Many parents left with loud complaints.

"It certainly wasn't our intention to make children cry or to make parents angry," said one organizer.  "It was chaos. A disgrace," said one angry parent. She said her children were trampled and didn't get any eggs.  "I'll never come back," she said to the reporter.  Yet, "There were no reports of injuries, but only injured feelings."

So you see kids: here at Christ Church – where we don’t have a helicopter Easter egg hunt -- we are sparing you from tears and heartache and potential injury this Easter.  To the parents and children present today I say: you’re welcome!  

We have our own joy this morning.  Today after all is The Day in the Christian year when we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord. When we can say in no uncertain terms that God has conquered death. There is life beyond the grave.  In Christ, there is a promise of eternal life that we get glimpses of here and now. Jesus Christ is alive in our world and in us, and that changed and changes everything.  

But even with all the joy and hope that Easter brings, like those children who left that Mississippi egg drop crying, we still can’t get away from tears.

From John’s telling:

John 20: 11-13 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”

Why even mention crying and tears when this day is centered on new life in Christ?

In my experience, there is a fine line between joy and sorrow -- laughing and tears.  How many of you have ever laughed so hard that tears start rolling down your face?  Or gathering with family and friends to remember the passing of a loved one, telling stories of their life, mourning their life, the good, cherished times, when someone – almost always – recalls a lighter moment, an odd habit or off expression of the one being remembered, and the room breaks out in laughter. Laughter becomes the balm that heals and the gateway to living into an unknown future. 

Heaven knows: our world has a whole lot of things to weep and cry about. Our bishop reminds us in his Easter message that last year, “over 400 of our neighbors in New Hampshire died to drug overdoses.” Too many in a small state.  Globally, innocent lives are being lost by acts of terror from the heart of Europe to the most remote village in Africa – where in the out of the way forgotten corners of the globe there are no television crews and few candle light vigils.  There is a real fear in our globalized world that many are trying to grapple with and understand.  For us this fear of terror and our need to find a way to respond may be the spiritual challenge of our time.  

The miracle and joy of Easter has something to say to us about our world today – the rational and irrational fear that terror creates.   Jesus triumphed over the demons of darkness and death so that we would not make them our own. His resurrection shows us how not to draw back into ourselves or turn on one other and see the other with constant suspicion.  We must be safe, yet we also must not lose our soul or our core beliefs in the process – which is why we pray for our leaders who make these tough decisions on our behalf.  For it is in the other, the stranger, the outcast, the wounded, the child, the lost, the prisoner, the refugee and the poor that Jesus told us to look to find him. There are risks and there will be set backs if we follow a Christ who died on a cross before he was raised on the third day.  As they say: “it goes with the territory.”

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.  Mary Magdalene, mentioned in all four gospels as a witness to the Resurrection, took a moment to cry for someone dear and close that she believed had been lost to her forever.

The empty tomb could have become a memorial. Candles could have been lit and more and more people could have gathered there. But it didn’t.  The risen Jesus saw Mary’s tears and sees ours.  And he says to her, through the tears:  “Do not hold on to me.”

I return often to the Native American proverb that states, “You can’t see the future with tears in your eyes.”

There comes a time and a day when mourning for what seems to have been lost does little good for those who believe in a God of resurrection, new life and unconditional love.  The risen Jesus told Mary instead: “But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

How then do we go from tears to letting go? From fear to trust? From pain to healing? From feeling trapped to being set free? From conflict to peace? From sadness to joy?  

Is there a something we could wear on our wrists to count our progress – sort of like a fitbit for our souls? 

The beloved late Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey reminds us “the language in the New Testament is not of Jesus rising but of Jesus being raised by God. Jesus did not “achieve” resurrection. (pg. 103 To Believe is to Pray, James E. Griffiss, Editor). 

St. Paul wrote to early believers: 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. (1 Corinthians 15)

Each morning I get of bed soon after I open my eyes or my old dog Max starts stirring. I rise out of bed on my own.  I am not raised out of bed.

We live in an achievement and aspirational culture.  Many of us spend our days seeking to achieve something that always seems to change just about the time we acquire it.  The goalposts in life tend to move.

Yet when it comes to truly living into the promise of the Resurrection, it is not something we can achieve or acquire by praying more, reading more good books, trying harder, joining a church, going to church, even by living a better life.  This is one thing that we can’t make happen on our own.

The promise of God, to conquer death forever, to lift and raise us up, happens to us and for us. 

Today we wake up to proclaim and share the central message of our faith: that God brings new life to dead ends.  

It is not something we can purchase, or package, or download, crowd source, or bargain for and leverage something else to acquire.  

The Resurrection we celebrate today is mystery and Grace: a free gift from God who is hoping against hope that we are foolish and wise enough to believe and live into.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Cuba: Obama and Hope for Change


Iconic Che Guevara mural in Cuba: Photo by Mark Pendleton 2015
My first trip to Cuba was in 1985. I have been hooked ever since. From 1986-1987 I spent one year as a seminarian in Matanzas, taking a train each Friday to Havana to help out at the cathedral. My son Will retraced some of my steps during his Y.A.S.C. year in 2013: he is currently engaged to his Cuba fiancĂ©e Naylet.  Needless to say: my family has been into Cuba for a long time. 

With President Obama's trip to the Cuba next week, it is worth pausing and seeing how far we have come to the brink of a new day in U.S.-Cuba relations. Yes, there are still many things to work through: human rights, fair elections, land claims, immigration, and who could forget: Guantanamo? The process of normalization, let alone reconciliation, begins anew. It needs to begin. 

One of the main themes of the Community of the Cross of Nails is "healing the wounds of history." We have many such wounds to heal between Cuba and the U.S. Those wounds will not heal overnight. Stories will need to shared. I hope and pray that life is changed for the average Cuba in the months and years ahead. I believe it is a good thing for Americans to travel freely to Cuba, and I hope for the day that Cubans can travel freely here -- and return home to help rebuild their island from decades of isolation and neglect.  

As Christ Church travels to Cuba April 2, and the Exeter Rotary Club follows on April 9, may we play a small part in making one-time enemies into friends.