Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Sermon I Want to Hear

Christmas 2016
Exeter, New Hampshire

We gather on this holy night for our annual celebration of the birth of Jesus. It was the angel that proclaimed to shepherds in the fields: (Luke 2:10-11)  “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  The world needs good news.  We need good news. And Christmas comes each year and offers us a way to believe again in hope, peace and joy. 

 In the Bible, names carry meaning, and Jesus’ name means simply, “God saves.” Jesus is the Savior of the world.  As Moses before him saved those who lived in captivity in Egypt and led them to a Promised Land, God’s sight and purpose was much broader and lasting with birth of the Christ child: all the world would be saved -- not just the chosen, the good, the knowing, the holy, but all, now and forever. 

God saves -- a good thing, right?  Someone who has fallen overboard is thrown a life preserver to save them.  A hiker losses their way in the forest and search parties are quickly organized to search and save her.  We admire the heroism of a first responder who runs into a burning building to save those trapped inside. 

You may have heard that this past week Dr. Henry Heimlich died at the age of 96.  Dr. Heimlich is credited with saving thousands of people from choking to death, thanks to the method he invented in 1974.  The good doctor actually used the maneuver at his retirement home this past year when a woman began choking. 

People helping and trying to save others from harm or distress makes sense.   How about God saving us?

Why then does the phrase “God saves” carry with it so much weight and baggage?  For me it goes to my years I spent in the South in my college years -- at the very edge of the Bible Belt --that taught me to be on guard and ready to defend myself if anyone asked me if were “saved.” Because I knew what they were really asking.  “Are you saved? Born Again? Do you believe the Bible to be literal and true? Do you know Jesus the way we know Jesus?”  Is he your personal Lord and Savior?   It always felt more like a test than a genuine question. 

On the subject of saving, let me try to save you from something else this evening. My source is the blog post by Lutheran pastor Erik Parker entitled “11 Christmas Eve sermons that often get preached, but we don’t want to hear.”

Parker contends that before the congregation “can hold the candles and sing Silent Night, the pastor is going to ramble on for a while. What is the preacher going to say this year?” people wonder. 

So as I ramble on these are the sermons Parker suggests I avoid. There is the “come to church sermon and the come back to church sermon.” This is the risky strategy of targeting the less frequent churchgoer into checking in more often.  Trust me: not a good idea.  There’s the “Jesus is the reason, so Santa is not” sermon – the sermon that, makes a person feel bad for even mentioning poor Santa’s name around children.   It’s O.K. Santa is fine by me.  And then there’s the “magic of Christmas” sermon. This one suggests that this night is all about feelings and nostalgia, painting a cozy picture of a Norman Rockwell Christmas with perhaps a story thrown in from the preacher’s childhood. There’s the lecture sermon with a lot a religious words, and then there is the anti-consumerism sermon that leaves everyone feeling ashamed for buying any gifts at all.

Such pressure. Christmas Eve sermons should be simple yet meaningful, relevant and timeless, inspire but not be too heavy or depressing. 

What is the message tonight then? God saves.

It starts by looking where we least expect things to happen in our lives.  God continues to show up unannounced and in surprising ways to stop us in our tracks and make us reconsider the gift that is our lives. 

In Isaiah’s time God made this promise: the yoke of the people’s burden, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressors, would be broken. 

But how? For those long ago who thought God would send down armies more powerful than those that occupied Bethlehem the night Jesus was born, they would be disappointed.  For those who hoped for a revolution from within to topple the powerful, they too would be disappointed. 

In the Christmas story, shepherds are given front row seats to the event that changed everything.  And yet they were people who had no power or influence in Jesus’ day. They were at the bottom of the ladder of success, yet they were given a prized view.

The Apostle Paul wrote: But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are. 1 Corinthians 1:27-28  

God chose a different way to save us and show the world out of darkness.   Out of exile back home.  Out of the shadows into the light. Out of loneliness into community.  Out of sin into healing.  Out of death into life.  

The way out and the way forward comes through a child.  Isaiah 9:6 And a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

To be saved, we are invited to make room and space in our lives for the power of weakness, service, humility, tenderness, innocence, vulnerability, compassion, openness, forgiveness and trust.   

Our world has many challenges, as it did on the night Jesus was born. Our work – and it is work -- is not to overcome by them, or depressed at turns of events, or hopeless at the news of endless wars or tragedies.   Certainly we cannot afford to check out and ignore what is going on beyond our families, homes and comfortable communities.  

Once we believe in our hearts that we are worthy of God’s saving, we are asked to lend a hand.  To heal and mend the world.

 The Spanish mystic Teresa of Ávila reminds us:

 “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

So let us join the Light that overcomes all darkness.  And may God save us all. 
The Rev. Mark B. Pendleton


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

In Partnership with Latin America and the Caribbean

Group photo of the Conference participants in Panama City, Panama 
Two days after the Presidential election, I left the country. It would only be for a week, but I knew there was no escaping the impact and reaction of many around the world. 

I was invited to travel to Panama City, Panama to attend the Latin American and Caribbean Partners’ Gathering by the staff of Trinity Church Wall Street. 

Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City is a famed historic and resourced congregation that has a large footprint far beyond lower Manhattan.  With its vast financial wealth that dates back to pre-U.S.A. and the land grant given to them by Queen Anne of Great Britain when Trinity was still a Church of England congregation, Trinity has been a leader in making grants that empower ministries around the world.  Having worked deeply throughout Africa in the last two decades, Trinity is exploring new partners in Latin America and Asia.
Trinity rector Bill Lupfer (second from the left) presented Trinity's goals and values 
Convening is something Trinity does very well and often.  Those that Trinity gathered in Panama from November 10-15, 2016 were bishops, clergy and laity from South and Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, the West Indies and Spain and Portugal.   This was the second gathering for this emerging group, which had first met in Brazil last year. Archbishop Tutu once said that the core identity of Anglicans is that they meet.  So, this group, in that tradition, met to discuss what it means to be Anglican in their cultural context and how it shapes the mission agenda. 

What fascinated me as a North American observer was to see how the mix of peoples and histories and cultures was and is still impacted by the colonial roots of each of the regions.  Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, and the United States were all colonial powers. As one presenter noted, Anglicanism is a ‘heritage carried in colonial vessels.’   Gathered in one room was a Jamaican, a Brazilian, a Mexican, and a Cuban all brought together because of the legacy of the Anglican and Episcopal mission in the America’s. 

Language.  We used three to communicate: Spanish, Portuguese and English.  Trinity provided professional translators and equipment to ensure that all plenary and small groups had simultaneous translators to that people could speak and listen in their native tongue. 
Breakout conversations with translators in booths behind the table. Bishop of Cuba second to the left 
There were common threads of concern and interest among the participants and we had time for presentations and small group conversation on various topics: migration, the environment, economic inequality, indigenous rights, theological education, leadership development, and long-term ministry sustainability.  A bishop from Jamaica spoke about socials ills of crime, drugs and the delinquency of many young men on the island and how the church is challenged to respond.  There was time for sharing from each participant diocese about their history and current ministries -- a way to share the Good News and best practises of mission. 
Presentation on Indigenous peoples and the church's mission 
One of my lasting impressions was on the issue of migration. In the U.S. the immigration issue was a hot point of the political campaign: to build a wall or not to build a wall on our southern border with Mexico and whether or not to deport millions of people. The rector of Trinity Church Bill Lupfer reminded us that the original settlers to the island of Manhattan were afraid of the local Native Americans in the 1600’s, so they built a wall. That wall ran along a street, which became known as Wall Street -- the iconic name of all things financial in New York and beyond.  A wall does not end fear; it only divides. 

Presenters shared the impact of the presence of migrants and refugees on their local dioceses and what they were doing to respond.  Immigration is not  ‘just’ a U.S. issue (note the obvious tone of this statement).   Almost every diocese that participated spoke about the plight of migrants in their countries: Latin Americans in Spain, Cubans in Costa Rica passing through to Mexico and the U.S., Haitians and Senegalese in Brazil, Venezuelans in Colombia, Dominicans in Puerto Rico, Haitians in the D.R., Guyanese in Barbados, and Nicaraguans in Costa Rica.  Nearly all of the churches were using ministry resources to respond to the universal Christian call to care for the stranger and foreigner, even in contexts were resources are limited. I was struck again how the movement of peoples across borders is a growing global phenomenon and will require many to dig deep into a Christ-based compassion to learn and respond.  The impulse to build walls will certainly grow.   

A gift of a conference such as the one Trinity organized was that we did not gather to legislate or resolve conflict. With many of the official Anglican meetings centered on finding the least common denominator to hold this vast and complex Communion together in a post-colonial age, participants in Panama were invited to build friendships, deepen ties and imagine a network that goes beyond institutional provinces and jurisdictions. 
I was assigned note taker for one small group on migration 
As the conference concluded  after Sunday preaching engagements in some of Panama’s Episcopal churches and a tour of the world famous Canal, there was a shared commitment to stay in communication with one another.  To share what is energizing them in their ministries and contexts.  To draw inspiration from the Gospel to stand up for and walk with the marginalized of the world.  As Trinity Church hopes to go deeper in the areas they are defining that they do well, I imagine that future gatherings of this group will also want to go deeper as they continue to build trust and friendships. 
After preaching at the Cathedral of St. Luke in Panama City

I conclude with some of the questions that guided our daily Bible studies: 
What are we looking for as a Church?

What does it mean to follow Jesus today?

Here do we identify the presence and need of Jesus in our ministry?

What is our mission today?

Where do we find the Holy Spirit in our mission?

How are we imitating the mission of Jesus to bring good news to the poor?

How we empty ourselves to become like Christ?

What does leadership mean in our church today?

Where do we see the crucifixion of Christ today?  

Who are the crucified people?

Where do we need healing in our church and world?

How is Jesus calling us to new ministries and new places?

Where are we looking for Jesus and where will be find him?

How are we called to preach today?
My Bible study group in Spanish and Portuguese 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Moving forward in hope

November 9, 2016

Dear Christ Church Family,

As we settle into the day after a very long, contentious and often divisive election, many of us knew that regardless of which candidates would prevail that our nation would be in need of healing and reconciliation.  Today some of our friends and family are despondent and afraid.  Some of our friends and co-workers are exuberant and confident.  Where does this leave us?  It should leave us with the message of Christ that endures: love, welcome, acceptance, justice and compassion.

As hard as it is to interpret large lessons in the fog of late-night election returns, brokenness and fear are not new realities in our world.  As Christians, I hope that we work together to listen more deeply, reach out and act where we can and protect and empower the most vulnerable among us. We in the Episcopal Church have a long tradition of praying for our political leaders and pray we will.  

Today a few of us gathered in the Chapel to talk, listen, and pray.  We settled on the following well-known prayer which I offer to you.   

A Prayer attributed to St. Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

In God’s peace,

The Rev. Mark B. Pendleton


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


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