The Lyrics

Several folks asked me for the new lyrics I wrote for “Jesus Loves Me” in my previous post. They were written very quickly, over a bowl of cereal, last Sunday morning.  Here they are:

Jesus loves me, this I know
for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong.
They are weak but he is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves you, too, it’s true,
and people who don’t look like you.
The widow and the Syrian,
immigrants from every land.

Refrain

Jesus loves Republicans,
Democrats, Lib’tarians.
Doesn’t matter how you vote,
He loves us all and that’s no joke.

Refrain

Jesus loves both gays and straights,
married folks and celibates.
Homeless folks, he loves them, too.
Pris’ners in their cells also.

Refrain

Jesus died for all, you see
even folks who disagree.
One thing’s true, now listen well:
God loves us all (you know darn well.)

Refrain

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The Year of the Lord’s Favor

“Epiphany” isn’t a word people use very often. It means “manifestation, striking appearance, revealing.” In the church, it describes how Jesus was revealed to be the Son of God. Gradually, over several occasions – his baptism, the wedding at Cana, his first sermon in the temple, walking on water, the transfiguration – the disciples came to know who Jesus truly was: the Son of God, the messiah. Of course, these events didn’t cause Jesus to become divine; they only revealed something that had been true all along. Instead, these and other miraculous events caused the disciples to have a flash of insight, an epiphany.

Last weekend, your vestry and I had a similar experience on our annual retreat – we had an epiphany. We traveled to Camp Gravatt to plan out the coming year. We were led by a gifted facilitator, a priest named (appropriately enough) Grant Wiseman. Our goal was to figure out how we might lead this parish to become a stronger and healthier community. Over the course of the weekend, we shared our deep love for St. Simon & St. Jude, and we talked a great deal about the mission and ministry of our parish.

Our epiphany came when Father Grant took us through a series of videos titled Celebrate What’s Right With The World. These videos helped us change our perspective on a few things that have been causing us concern. As we watched the videos, we began to realize that by changing our perspective we could change the life of our parish. Instead of concentrating on problems, we began to look at all our strengths as a parish. What’s working well? What can we go out and celebrate? And as we looked, we began to appreciate our strengths and think about ways we can make them even better.

Our epiphany was that God has already blessed us richly, and that we have a great many opportunities for growth – enthusiastic growth.

One example of how our perspective changed was when we looked at how much of our facility is used by groups from the community. All of us have long appreciated that SSSJ isgrounded by our outreach projects. We toil in the pumpkin patch for an entire month to raise money to donate to charitable organizations. We serve hotdogs downtown on Saturdays. We make up snack packs for some of the least privileged children at Oak Pointe Elementary each week. We donate food and clothing to Sharing God’s Love, buy toys for children at Christmas, give away Easter baskets to abused and neglected children. These are amazing programs that involved a great many of our members. We should celebrate these projects!

But as wonderful as all these projects are, our greatest outreach ministry is the way we

share our facilities with the rest of the community. Every day, hundreds of people pass through our doors in search of a better life. The Lunch Box chapter of AA is one of the largest in the Columbia area and it meets 6 days a week. There’s not a week that goes by that someone from AA doesn’t tell me how important this particular chapter has been in changing his or her life. The New Beginnings chapter of Narcotics Anonymous began meeting about a year ago. It grew very quickly, and they have now started a second weekly meeting. Boy Scout Troop 312 has called St. Simon & St. Jude home for twenty years. In that time, we have sponsored dozens of Eagle Scouts and helped hundreds of boys become more self-reliant citizens. Venture Scouts and Girl Scouts are also active here. Meanwhile, two nights a week, we provide a place of recovery for court-ordered and voluntary domestic abuse counseling groups.

Open DoorsAll of these groups gather in our church because we welcome them in. And as the vestry began to reflect on it, we began to realize that one of our greatest strengths lies in our willingness to open our doors to the community – even to those who choose to worship someplace else. We began to change our perspective, and see these groups not as something outside of who we are, but a constituent part of our church and our identity in the community. Over the years, St. Simon & St. Jude has become a Community Cathedral, a place where everyone in the community is welcome.

God has blessed us richly in many other areas as well. We have a music program that is far better than we could ever afford. We have creative and willing teachers and young people who are engaged and want to participate in the life of the parish. We are a diverse church – racially, politically, theologically, and spiritually – and we welcome and support each other regardless of differences.

At the same time, we recognized the need to improve in some key areas. We want to work harder an making our worship more engaging and enthusiastic. We want to foster more fellowship and study through small groups. We want to help all of our members identify the gifts God has blessed them with. And we want to do a better job of telling the world who we are at St. Simon & St. Jude and invite others to join us.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus returns from his retreat in the desert “filled with the Holy Spirit.” And he goes to the temple and reads a passage from Isaiah.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
     because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
     and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

The spirit of the Lord is upon us as well. He has sent us to proclaim release to those addicted to alcohol and drugs. He has given us a place that serves the entire community, changing lives and strengthening young men and women. He filled us with a diverse and creative congregation.

All of these things, our incredible strengths and our opportunities for improvement, combine to make us a unique place in the kingdom of God. We are who we are, not because of what we can’t do, but because of who we already are. All it takes is for us to open our eyes, see what’s already right in our parish, and build on that. All it takes is being open to the epiphany of God’s already abundant presence in our church and our lives.

Let us proclaim this year, as the year of the Lord’s favor at St. Simon & St. Jude.

An Unexpected Christmas

A new take on the Christmas story by Simone Graham (read at the Children’s Christmas Eve service.)

We tried something different at the early service on Christmas Eve this year.  Instead of a homily, I read a new children’s story called “An Unexpected Christmas.”  The story was written by Simone Graham, a writer and blogger who wrote it for her own children and who lives in Auckland, New Zealand.  The book has been published and made into a short video.  You can get more information, order the book, and see the video at her blog, greatfun4kids.

A Season of Rare Beasts and Unique Adventures

There is a song* on page 464 of our hymnal which has always struck me as very odd. The lyrics come from a poem written by W. H. Auden during the Second World War. In it, he reflects on the coming of Christ through fanciful images and strange new worlds. It is Auden’s attempt to describe how the coming of Christ changes everything about the way we see and engage with the world.

For Christians, the season of Advent marks the beginning of a new year. Obviously, because it happens to fall right after Thanksgiving and before the secular New Year holiday, the season is filled with all sorts of confusing messages. Clergy struggle in vain to get their people to slow down and consider the meaning of God coming into the world; angry fanatics rant about how some people are trying to “take the Christ out of Christmas” (whatever that means); and stores offer more and more incentives to part people from their money. Frankly, all of it seems to completely miss the point of this time of year: that God came into the world to usher in a completely new age of human history, and we can only imagine what the world will be like as a result. In other words, God is not fixed, God is not static, God is not bound by our conceptions of “the way it is.” Instead, God is continually making the world fresh, and alive, and recreated anew.

sun%20over%20earthFor us, this means that we don’t have to be content with the way things are. As children of God, we are empowered to act and change the world in ways that create new opportunities and realities for ourselves and our families. We can imagine things as they should be, and work to change them. We can dream, we can hope, we can reach forward into God’s new reality, a reality in which we are all united with God through Christ.

One of the symbols of this forward-looking world view is the Advent calendar. Every day, one door is opened, revealing a surprise. Every day, we get a glimpse of God’s New Creation that awaits us just around the corner. Every day, we can move forward into a world of peace, joy, and harmony with God and nature. The Advent calendar reminds us that our past need not determine our future; God has many surprises in store for us, if we are simply willing to be open to them.

Two weeks ago, our parish decided to once again to renew our commitment to God’s mission in Irmo through the election of a wonderful slate of dedicated people to work on the vestry. We decided to move forward, looking honestly at our ministry and build on our strengths, while repairing our weaknesses. I am excited about our new leadership, and optimistic for our future. I truly believe that our best and brightest days are ahead of us, and that we are still called to be part of God’s mission for the world. All it takes is a little creativity and a willingness to take a chance on something new. I ask your prayers for your vestry and for me as we begin to map out what new doors our parish might open.

The season of Advent reminds us that we are not chained to our past; we can be partners with God in recreating the world as it was meant to be. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see some rare beasts. We will definitely have a unique adventure.

Blessings,
Fr. Mark+

* He is the Way. 
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness; 
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

from “For the Time Being – a Christmas Oratorio” by W. H. Auden, 1944

Seeking Onement

Onement 1

Barnett Newman, 1948

A buddhist monk walks up to a hot dog vendor and says, “make me one with everything.”

…So the vendor gives him a hot dog and the monk gives him a twenty dollar bill. After a moment of waiting, the monk asks, “Where’s my change?”

The vendor smiles and says, “Ahh, change must come from within.”

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