Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost, August 30, 2020
Beloved people of St. John’s:
From the Collect of this Sunday (and one of the Church’s most often quoted):
Lord of all power and might, […] increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works…
Whatever true religion is, the Church prays this Sunday that it increases in us! That’s not an idle sentiment, people of God. The foundation of this prayer is the belief that religion is not static, it is always becoming and that with the power and might of God behind us, it will bring forth in us the fruit of good works.
Allow me to posit that religion is a set of spiritual beliefs and practices that hold a people together. Our religion – Christianity – is based upon following the life, teachings, and leadership of Jesus. We learn about Jesus in the writings of scripture, from our traditions that stretch back over 2,000 years, and in how the Spirit of God continues to reveal Herself in the gathering of a praying community. Each of these sources can give the appearance of being firm, staid, and static matters. As for the scriptures, we know that they are written, some are very old, we can review them, and speculate what they mean. What else we know, however, is that there is no “original” scripture (that is, a first edition from the writers’ hands), and all interpretations of scripture are made by human beings; human beings for whom eliminating all prejudices and assumptions before approaching the writings for interpretation have proven difficult, at least.
Traditions and the revelations of the Holy Spirit within a praying community are equally fraught with risk. Traditions within the Christian community, for example, vary greatly from place-to-place and from linguistic variations. These differences, more than the other factors, are responsible for a plethora of rival denominations and the frequently contentious disagreements that exist between us.
The workings of the Holy Spirit in community are also a most subjective matter. When a group of fallible, opinionated, agenda-filled Christians come together to make a decision, you can bet there will be highly debated outcomes and statements that too often devolve into regret.
Many good folks hold to a belief that religion is a compendium of immutable truths handed down directly from God and, therefore, cannot be questioned or changed. I imagine that one reason for this is that it seems to offer a promise of stability, predictability, and a common morality while avoiding the messiness of rules [beliefs and practices] that change with the wind.
It would be foolish for anyone to offer us a choice between these two: “Which would you prefer, a religion that is permanent and predictable, or one that adapts to new discoveries and to human need?” It is a false choice because religion is a human construct and not a divine one. Humans change, develop, err, and mature. It would be far simpler for us if we didn’t have to address those developments and alter our thinking and behavior. We are humans who are driven for stability. This may be related to the genetic drive for survival. After all, if you’ve reached the age of 30 by doing ‘the same things you’ve always done,’ why risk life and limb by changing? What faith desires and what Jesus asks from us, is that we rise above our need for the predictable – for a religion that only gives comfort ­– and embrace a life that challenges us at every turn. It’s messy, yes, and it forces us to be aware of those around us who are NOT comfortable, who are poor, and who need someone to break through their isolation with a word of love.
I hear Jesus addressing this matter in the Gospel this weekend. When last week Peter identifies Jesus as the Son of the living God, this week he wants to stand in the way of the living God whose mission is much different than what Peter learned or imagines. One of these characters sees God’s participation in the world as static and never-changing; while the other sees it as ever-evolving and applicable to the situation at hand.
Can you guess who is who?
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Last week, I mentioned that St. John’s is preparing to answer the urgent need for rental assistance for those who have lost jobs and will lose their home. The mechanisms for this are falling into place now. If you are moved to make a contribution to this endeavor, Rev. Karen and I will use our Discretionary Funds to have quick and transparent responses ready for those who need help. (You can make your check to the Assisting Vicar’s Discretionary Fund, or to the Vicar’s Discretionary Fund. Your donations retain their tax benefits to you.) Further, if you’d like to have direct contact with a family who needs assistance (a bit like adopting such a family), let us know and, if doesn’t break anyone’s request for confidentiality, we will make it happen.
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We continue to celebrate Eucharist at St. John’s on Saturday evening at 6:30 until the weather is less uncomfortable. We next meet in the fountain courtyard Saturday, September 5. Registration is required, and the link to register goes live Monday, August 31 at 9 a.m. We follow protocols recommended by the State of California, from temperature-taking and answering a brief questionnaire about your general health, to social distancing and making available sanitation stations.
Our schedule of ZOOM services remains the same: 
• Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we pray Morning Prayer at 9 a.m. (Here is the worship bulletin for Sunday, August 30)
• Nighttime Prayer is prayed on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
• Bible Fellowship (open to all) continues on Wednesday evenings at 6 p.m.
To ensure participants’ online security, we don’t publish the ZOOM link; if you did not receive the church-wide email from me with the links, and would like to attend services, please email me and I’ll add you to the e-blast, and send you the links.
All ZOOM services since mid-March are posted under the “Miss a Service?” button on the website’s home page. Search for a service you missed and get caught up. Go have a look.
Rev. Karen and I offer separate group ZOOM office hours each week. My time is Tuesday morning from 10-11 a.m. Should you need a one-on-one session, just reach out and we’ll get something scheduled. Here is the link to my group office hour.
We continue our prayers for St. John’s School, the students, parents, Mr. McHonett, and all staff who start school next week. With great excitement and a LOT of careful measures, many of the students will be back on campus beginning Thursday.
May God’s peace console us in our journey. May we let God be God, and be prepared to fall behind Jesus as he leads us forward in uncertain times.