Sunday, October 14, 2007

October Sermon Series "Why I Come To St. Hilary's"

A reflection from Sue on Luke 17:11-19

Back in August, when Pastor Terri asked me to speak today, I said sure without even thinking about it. I have never minded talking publicly, so this would be easy. All I had to do was share why I come to St. Hilary’s. That was easy enough. I come because I started here when I was 9 and I was too lazy when I was done with college to go anywhere else. Done.

But, as I reflected further, it became very clear to me that this was not the entire truth. Yes, I have been here since I was 9. Yes, there are some times in my life when I decide to just stay where I am so that I don’t have to put in the effort of changing. However, there is far more to my life at St. Hilary’s than that. Something has kept me here despite great difficulties within myself and this community.

I realized quite clearly when I was in high school that faith could be very difficult. I was part of the youth group here. There were approximately 20 high school students in the group back then. I had a few friends there. I enjoyed most of the activities we did. But, when I was a junior and brought a friend to church, I discovered that this group was not very welcoming to new people that were a little different from them and I began to look at my own relationships within the group. I decided that I didn’t want to be talking about things that meant nothing to me. I was a good kid. I didn’t drink, wasn’t out late partying and didn’t disagree with my parents on everything they said. So, I decided to attend church rather than youth group. Not one person ever asked why I left the group, but the rumor got back to my parents that I felt I was too good for the group. No one ever found out that I quit because I didn’t feel I belonged. I wasn’t going to come to youth group every Sunday to feel rejected and alone.

I thought of this whole story because I was reflecting on Paul’s letter to Timothy that was read today. The section that was read today talks of enduring hardship so others may know Christ. When 20 kids all turned their backs on me, it was a hardship. But, I was not ashamed that my faith in God and the spirituality I felt in church were more important to me than the friendship of others my age. It was a lonely time, but my faith grew by being in church and doing what I wanted to do rather than following the crowd. This experience began to teach me that the church is filled with human beings and we are all imperfect and sometimes hurt others. If we continue to work together and find common ground, we can be made well, both as individuals and as a congregation.

This very building has many good memories within it. Way back when the addition was build, I helped paint many Saturdays. Joe and I were married here. Both our children were baptized here. But, it’s not just the building. Even more importantly, it’s the people.

When we were married we were surrounded by great family and friends. Both of our boys were baptized here by women I love and respect in a community that has stood behind us in thick and thin. Johnny’s baptism even began the process of my family’s reconciliation with my brother.

Today, I continue to come to St. Hilary’s for many reasons. One of my favorite things about our church here is that we are small and I can feel that I have an impact on the life of this congregation. I am able to read lessons, work with the music, help out in the education programs, lead Vacation Bible school and recently have been given the opportunity to fight for the children in our church and world.

My faith and people here have helped me through many very hard times in my life, from the caring for my dying grandmother to having my brother move into our apartment when we were married just months: from being diagnosed with major depression to being told my son had bipolar disorder; from not finding a teaching job right away to being ready to move to the next part of my life by going back to school next year; from my parents moving to Colorado to my parents moving back. But, where does my faith come from?

It comes from my time here in this place with God and my friends. So, here is the answer for Pastor Terri’s question. St. Hilary’s is a place where I really belong. I have friends that have supported me through several bouts of major depression. When I had a difficult time and began to withdraw, my friends here didn’t let me. They lovingly helped my family guide me back to health. They pray for me. Like the 10 lepers in the gospel today, I have begged God to heal me. People here remind me that God loves me and that healing takes many forms. Jesus healed the lepers because they asked to be made well and they believed in him. I have struggled for many years with this particular story. Why does he not heal me from this disease called depression? Why doesn’t he just make it go away once and for all?

Like the Lepers, I have continued to ask for help. This spring I journeyed through lent feeling very abandoned by God. I was in the desert searching for him. I finally got to the point where I realized that I had to search within myself in order to find him. I took this dark, Lenten time to reflect and wait until I found some answers. I did withdraw from my friends, or at least tried to. The friends here at St. Hilary’s didn’t let me. They made me interact in a safe caring environment. When I wanted to just hide in bed, they checked on me and prayed with me. I know that just being on the prayer list here helped me to feel that I would find God again and me again.

This was a really difficult and scary time in my life. All the time, I kept coming here hoping to find God and myself again. I asked God to heal me and also my family. I consulted Drs that helped me to get the chemicals in my body more balanced and the thoughts in my head more clear. I fought the feelings of desertion. But, most of all, I searched inside me. After all, others around me seemed to see valuable things in me, just as Jesus did in the lepers. I spent time examining old memories. I began to reframe the way I looked at who I was.

It was a long journey, but somewhere around Easter, I let go of some of the guilt and pain that I had taken on as a child. What a freeing experience! I became clean inside! I see life differently now. I’m sure I will continue to deal with depression the rest of my life, but I have now forgiven myself for things that happened when I was a child and young adult that weren’t my fault in the first place.

\Like the 9 lepers in today’s gospel that didn’t come back, it took me a while to see God again in my life. I didn’t thank him right away. I figured I had worked hard and fought on my own. However, it became obvious that it was not all my doing. God had been there all the way. He had held my hand and listened while I cried. He had protected and helped me to continue to care for my family. He had guided the Drs in their decisions for my treatment. He does want me to be well. He wants me to be healthy and productive.

So, like the lepers I was healed and now I have finally come back to Jesus to say thank you. I am not a leper anymore. I do not reject myself anymore. And I can honestly say that without God and all of you, I would be in a very different place in my life than I am today. So, I not only need to continue to thank God, but also all of you. I look forward to the future, not with fear, but with excitement. I don’t know what will happen here in the future. But, I know that along with all of us taking care of our church, God will continue to be present here and we can continue together to do God’s work.

Jesus healing my reflection on the lessons read today allow me to hear him say, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Sunday, October 7, 2007

October Sermon Series "Why I Come To St. Hilary's"

Today's sermon, the first of our series, is a reflection by Dan. The readings refered to are Psalm 37:1-10 and Luke 17:5-10

A few weeks back, Pastor Terri asked if I would share some thoughts on why I attend St. Hilary’s. My initial answer was --- we come to St. Hilary’s because it is close to our house. I then realized Pastor Terri was looking for a bit deeper meaning. She wanted to know in what way is St. Hilary’s important to me and how the ministries we participate in impact my life.

As I sat down to think about why I really like attending St. Hilary’s, I thought back to the first time Sharon and I visited here. It was approximately 20 years ago and it was infact because St. Hilary’s was close to our house. We were originally married at St. Martin’s in Des Plaines. We lived relatively close to St. Martins but then moved to this area. We quickly found it challenging to get the kids ready and out the door for the drive to church. One day after driving by St. Hilary’s for many years, we decided to give it a try.

It is also important to note that I grew up in a Roman Catholic Church with a large congregation. At the time we started coming to St. Hilary’s, it was about the same size congregation as St. Martin. The two churches combined were hardly 25% of the size of the church I grew up in. Growing up, I guess I was like many kids my age; I went to church on a weekly basis (mostly because my parents required it). I would go to church, spend my required weekly hour -- and then head out, not to think about church again until that hour came around the following Sunday.

St. Hilary’s was a different experience. One of the things I pride myself in is learning from others. I have done that all my life whether it was in school, my personal life, business life, or here at church. Initially when we joined St. Hilary’s, I continued to put in my weekly hour. And then I noticed this congregation was different than others. The key difference was it appeared that the people of St. Hilary’s really care – care about one another, the church, the local community, and the world community at large.

About ten years ago, St. Hilary’s had a extensive Lenten Program. For the first few years, I attended the group dinners, Stations of the Cross, and then listened to inspiring stories from fellow parishioners. These were remarkable stories about every day people who either over came difficult life challenges or were currently enduring challenges. They spoke of addictions, family crisis, death of loved ones, and faith moving experiences. Then Father Crist asked me to participate and present my story – at first I was hesitant to say yes because I did not know what I could share with this group that was relevant and inspiring. While I was pondering my decision, my schedule at work changed and I had to go out of town on the day he asked me to speak. So it turned out to be a convenient excuse to not have to get up and share my life with others. Well Father Crist, like another priest I know, was persistent. He asked me to speak on another day and I was hard pressed to say no. At that time, the only station I wanted to talk on was the fifth station – Simon helps Jesus. I felt I could easily relate to that as I always enjoyed helping others.

I did not spend a lot of time praying back then about my assignment, but I was hoping it would be the fifth station of the cross. I at least remember asking God if he would be so kind to make it an easy station so I could talk intelligently to the group. As you might expect, when the envelope showed up in the mail, my station to talk on was the fifth station. Recognizing my luck has never been that good, to hit the jackpot on 1 out of 14 certainly was much more than luck. In fact, I almost did not open the envelope as I was confident it was the fifth station. That experience had a big impact on me and since then I have learned that I could depend on God to answer my call. I put my trust in God, and like our psalm today reminds us:
“put your trust in the Lord and do good…take delight in the Lord and he shall give you your heart’s desire. Commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in him…”
About this same time, I decided I needed to get more involved. I started as a lay reader. Then I began to usher, and then a chalice bearer. I started to participate in other activities around the church including vestry warden, and enjoyed activities that involved helping others. A little over six years ago, a partner and I started a new business after 24 years with the same company. One of our core values was ensuring we give back to the community. We established our Convergint Social Responsibility Day. On that day, we go into the community and give back to those less fortunate than we are. To date we have donated over $1 Million in our time and materials to help our local communities. We have successfully created a culture whereby all of our colleagues give back and help, when and where they can. Another area that I have recently become involved in - is becoming a mentor for a minority high school student in an inner city school. While this is new, I expect it to be a rewarding experience as I help mentor a motivated minority high school student who needs to beat the odds to make it to College. I attribute a lot of what I have done relative to helping others to the lessons I have learned from the many excellent examples in this church.

In our Gospel reading today, the disciples ask Jesus for more faith and he tells them they have faith enough. What they need is not more faith, but rather the ability to do and continue doing what God calls from all of us. Faith results from people who are open to and are doing what God has initiated in us. We live in a world that usually chooses to ignore or worse, trample the weak. However, God calls us to respond to and lift up the weak. (Remember Jesus is speaking to the disciples, but as I talk about us, we are the disciples of today)…by referring to slaves Jesus is asking the disciples to reflect on their own experience – slaves in Jesus’ day had much work to do and they could not rest until their work was done. God expects the same of the disciples, there is much work to do to bring forth God’s kingdom and justice (i.e. all people should be healthy, fed, cared for; God asks us to love God, love self, love others)…as odd as this example seems to us it is really about reminding the disciples that what they desire, --- faith, ---- is within their reach. They are to respond to the challenges of life and faith from their own experiences (of God, faith, life) and they must strive to do God’s work. We should not just settle for things and accept them as they are (poverty, disadvantaged groups) rather we are to do something to change that.

As we all know, St. Hilary’s is a small church – but I have learned it is not a matter of how large a congregation is, rather, how committed it is to doing that which God expects of us. Because of the excellent example all of you set each day along with many of your predecessors, I am a much better person in faith being part of this congregation.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Where There Is Despair, Hope

A reflection on Luke 16:19-31

Francis of Assisi is best remembered as the saint of animals. It is in his memory that we hold our annual pet blessing. Normally this blessing would take place on a Sunday morning in October during the 10:00 service. But this year we have guest preachers each Sunday in Oct. to celebrate our life and ministry together. And I thought having a pet blessing would be just too much. So, we had it last night. It was a wonderful occasion for us to gather with our beloved pets and celebrate the joy they bring us.

St. Francis lived in the 12th century. He was born to a wealthy family and had all the luxuries of a good education. But a series of war related injuries and illnesses caused him to reconsider his life. Over a couple of years he changed from being a carefree playful young man to a man serious about helping the poor and caring for the world around him. To do this he began a religious order, now known as the Franciscans.

There are many legends about the amazing power Francis had with animals. One of them tells us that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, there was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals.” Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and went up into the hills to find the wolf. Soon fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, but the saint pressed on and when he found the wolf he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at the feet of St. Francis. “Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil…” said Francis. “All these people accuse you and curse you…But brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.” (Here I picture Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, come to rehabilitate the wolf and the town into a pack that can get along). So, Francis led the wolf into the town, and surrounded by startled citizens he made a pact between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger” the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly, and in return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks.

Not only was Francis the Dog Whisperer of the 12th century, but he also cared deeply for the poor and the hungry. The life and stories of Francis of Assisi connect us to our scripture readings today, giving us an example of how we are to be mindful of how we live. We are to remember that all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God. We are to share, intentionally, generously, with others. The rich man in our Gospel is not mindful; he is blind to what is going on around him. He does not ignore Lazarus, he doesn’t even see him. The rich man's blindness is not physical, his eyesight is fine. Rather its blindness caused by self absorption. Stories like this one from Luke are intended to help us see that our actions in this life have consequences.

One of the reasons the Episcopal Church has adopted the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is to give us concrete ways to live with our eyes and hearts open. These goals show us we can really see the world we live in and make a difference. The eight goals are: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; Achieve universal primary education; Promote gender equality and empower women; Reduce child mortality; Improve maternal health; Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; Ensure environmental sustainability; Develop a global partnership for development. These goals define real needs in the world and ask us to develop real responses to them. As a congregation we are doing this in three ways: we use and sell Bishop’s Blend coffee; we work to resettle refugees; and today we had our first conversation on keeping people safe in our church.

Bishops Blend is Fair Trade, which means the purchase of this coffee pays the coffee growers a living wage. By earning a living wage the coffee grower is less inclined to supplement the family income by growing and selling illegal drugs. By earning a living wage the coffee grower is less inclined to sneak into this country as an undocumented alien. Paying people a living wage allows families to remain intact, gain an education, and live productive lives. Every time we drink a cup of coffee in this church we are helping families. Every time we buy a bag of coffee to use at home we are helping. And, St. Hilary’s retains a small profit when you buy your coffee here which we donate to our companion Diocese of SE Mexico. Buying, using, and selling Bishops Blend coffee enables us to work on all eight goals.

A second way we are participating in the Millennium Development Goals, or MDG’s, is through our work with resettling refugees. This summer alone we have helped by providing kitchen items: dishes, pots and pans, eating and cooking utensils, for over 20 families. Working with refugees enables us to participate in seven of the goals. Each family we help is one less family facing poverty and hunger, one more family to receive and education, one more family that empowers its women, reduces child mortality, improves maternal health care, combats disease, and develops a global partnership through IRIM. And perhaps in some way I do not know resettling refugees also works to ensure environmental sustainability.

The third way we are participating in the MDG’s is by focusing on Keeping God’s People Safe. This ministry is new for us, at least in the concerted effort we made this morning to look at the reality of abuse in our world and how we, as a church community, can actively work to keep all people safe.

Each of these three intentional efforts requires very little individual effort on our part. But collectively they are making a huge difference in the world. Most of all by engaging in them and keeping them in the forefront of our ministry we have a constant reminder of the needs of the world and how, from our very blessed lives, we are able to address those needs.

St. Francis is attributed with a prayer. Most of you will know it. It is found in our red Book of Common Prayer on page 833, #62. Please open your prayer books and let’s pray it together:

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 pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.