Easter Prayer Vigil

Gardner News Article for April 22, 2017

This year during Holy Week I talked about how our bodies are connected with our spirituality.  Thursday I talked about our feet as we read the account of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and how when we let Jesus wash our feet we then and let Jesus into our whole lives.   Friday I talked about hands as Jesus’ hands were nailed to the cross and how we do God’s work with our hands.  On Easter Sunday I talked about our heart and how we live a life balanced between fear and joy.  But today I want to share with you some thoughts I had during the Easter Vigil.

There are two ways to think about how our heads connect to our faith.  The first is in our thoughts and the second is through our knowledge.  How do you think about your faith?  Is it something you practice on Sunday mornings or is it something you live out every day?  Our heads help us think about the scripture we read, we think about the prayers we say and we think about how we interact with one another. 

When we read scripture and study scripture the knowledge we have about the Bible grows and we learn about God,  Jesus and our faith.

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What is Holy Week?

Gardner News Article for April 8, 2017

What is Holy Week?  In most churches throughout the world the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday is called Holy Week.  Why do we call this week Holy?  I sometimes wonder because the events of the week lead up to Jesus’ death on a cross. It is a week filled with betrayal and desertion, suffering and abuse, and, finally, the death of an innocent who cries aloud in despair.

So why in the world has the Church decided to call these days  “Holy”?

The answer is that in this week God draws near to us, God takes on our lot and our life that so that we might know that wherever we go, whatever we do, whatever is done to us – God in Jesus understands and identifies with us.

We begin with Palm Sunday which was a celebration.  But Jesus’ triumphal entry wasn’t a first-century version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was a meant as a statement.  Jesus rode into town as a returning king and the crowds greeted him with hosannas and praise.  They expect him to overthrow the Romans. And the Romans take note. This helps to explain why, he was crucified. It wasn’t just an accident. It wasn’t because he simply offended the religious authorities of the day. It was because he proclaimed another kingdom – the kingdom of God – and called people to give their allegiance to this kingdom first. He was a threat.

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God Loves You Like it or Not

Gardner News Article For March 18, 2017

We recently read John 3: 16 in worship.  When you think about John 3: 16 what comes to your mind?  Maybe you think of the guy in the rainbow-colored wig sitting between the uprights holding the sign painted with the world’s most famous verse. But when I think of John 3:16, I think of six year-old Benjamin, protesting his bedtime, and I’m reminded of God’s unexpected, surprising grace.

Sometimes I say the phrase “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son to die…..” too often because it loses it’s significance.  God did not send Jesus to simply deliver a message, God sent Jesus to die, to die on a cross, to die on a cross for us. This is why, as Martin Luther once said, this verse is “the gospel in a nutshell.”

God never asked for our permission to send Jesus to the cross.  In fact, God does not ask us to do anything for our salvation.  If you are ever told that you need to do something to earn Gods love you can know that person is lying to you – you do not have to profess Jesus as your personal savior, you do not have to attend a bunch of classes you don’t have to do anything because Gods love is a free gift and it lasts forever.

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The Joy of Rotary

Gardner New Article for March 4, 2017

Three years ago when I moved to Gardner I knew I wanted to get involved with the community.  Moving here from a small town in New York I was aware of the importance of not only getting to know the people in my congregation but also the movers and shakers in the community. 

One day I received a letter from the Gardner Rotary club inviting me to have a conversation about becoming a Rotarian.  I thought it would be nice to have a conversation and learn more about the Rotary Club and have a better understanding as to what they do in the community and for the community.  I sat down with Joe Guercio and Dawn Casavant and they talked about all the of the service projects the Rotary does and the connection Rotary has all around the world.  I was impressed. 

The purpose of a local Rotary club is to connect people who then work together to solve community problems, provide humanitarian aid, and promote goodwill and peace. Rotary clubs exist all around the world, and Rotary International has over 1.2 million members. Their motto is “Service Above Self.”

Rotarians are committed to creating inroads with people so that opportunities to serve will arise from those connections. The Rotarian philosophy is that mutual service is the best way to create thriving businesses and societies. A Rotary club is committed to ethical practices in business and holds high ideals for personal behavior. Rotary clubs ask four questions—the Four-way Test—to be applied to thoughts, speech, or actions: “Is it the truth?” “Is it fair to all concerned?” “Will it build goodwill and better friendships?” “Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” If the answer is yes to all four questions, the action, speech, or thought is considered ethical.

Rotary International began in 1905 so there is no Bible examples of the Rotary. However, the Four-way Test for ethical business practices proposed by Rotarians is certainly in line with biblical principles.

The motto of “Service Above Self” recalls Biblical principles such as the Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12) and Jesus’ lesson that “the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11–12).  This is a reminder to me that work can be done outside of the church and it still can have a profound impact on our life of faith.

This weekend is the annual Gardner Rotary Auction.  You can watch it from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm today on local Public Access cable channel where we will be streaming live from Mount Wachusett Community College, and can also be viewed over the internet (mwcc.com/livetv). 

The Annual Gardner Rotary Club Auction is our largest annual fundraiser, with proceeds supporting critical local initiatives that strengthen and enrich the lives of those who live within our community.  Some of the things the Gardner Rotary Club supports are Student Scholarships, The Weekend BackPack Food Program, providing food for over 200 food insecure children week, The Partnership for Children – providing fiscal support, essentials and holiday gifts for needy families, The Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center, The GVNA Diaper Pantry, The Montachusett Suicide Prevention TaskForce, The CAC – with the Outhouse Project providing essential hygiene items for CAC patrons, The Fellowship Table which serves meals for those in need, Little League Sponsorships, Support for local programs such as HOPE, serving woman and children, The Dictionary Project – all third graders in Gardner, Winchendon, Baldwinville, Hubbardston, and Templeton and so much more. 

As the auction chair this year I have been in contact with so many people who talk about the importance of Rotary not only in this community but in their personal lives.  I have seen first hand how a simple act of support can change someone’s life.

I liken my journey in Rotary to the story of Emmaus Road in the Bible.  First the story two travelers are met on the road, they have the scriptures opened, they share in a meal that reveals the identity and presence of Christ, and then are sent to share and live the good news.

At first the disciples don’t believe Jesus has risen from the dead because we are so used to the limitations of death, the pain and paucity of life in this world, and the absolute certainty that all things must end, that new life – even when its standing right there in front of you!  When I think about all the good work Rotary does for the world I find it hard to believe.  I don’t know many groups in the world that do good work because it is the right thing to do, I don’t know very many people who spend hours raising thousands of dollars just so they can give it right back into the community.  This brings me joy.

Joy is so needed in this world because there are many things that happen to us everyday and if we are not careful we can find ourselves full of hurt, anger and despair.  But you can help by inquiring how you can become a part of Rotary or find ways to be involved in one of our programs.  For example, if you have some time today tune into the Rotary Auction on the local access channel, you might see me as your auctioneer or other people who are deeply connected to our community.  Feel free to bid on something and do your part in helping make our community a better place for us all. 

An Idea that Changed the World

Gardner News Article for February 18, 2017

Martin Luther changed the world with an idea.  The question that every religion asks and seeks to answer is how to we get to God.  Many of us have a relationship with God, but how do we truly know if we have a place in heaven? 

In almost every case the answer is like a ladder.  Every good work that we do, every time we go to church, every time we say a prayer we are one rung closer to heaven.  If we are faithful enough, if we pray enough and read our bible then we will secure our place it heaven. 

Martin Luther became a monk and he prayed, fasted, studied, and learned that he needed to do  to be a faithful Christian.  The problem was that no matter how high Luther climbed on that ladder he could never discover God.

We still have ladders today.  You may hear some preachers say that you have to go to church, you have to give your life over to God, or you have to give so much money into the offering plate in order for God to love you.  But that’s not true.

If you think about it we too often put people higher up to ladder than we find ourselves.  Where do you think Mother Teresa is on the ladder?  What about Dali Lama, Desmond Tutu or Pope Francis?

We may look at our neighbor who is faithful in going to church and praying and then we look at our own life and we wish we could have it all together we think that if we did these things more faithfully maybe our life would be better. 

Luther was trying to climb the ladder until he discovered the truth in scripture that we don’t need to climb a ladder because God comes to us!  God comes to where we are. This is grace.

The first time I preached this in a sermon I had one older gentleman in the congregation come up to me after the service and said “Pastor I had a problem with your sermon today.”  I invited him to say more and he said “Are you trying to tell me that God loves murders and crooks?  What about Hitler?  What about Isis?  Does God love them as well?” I told him,  “It is beyond my comprehension as to how God loves everyone including murders, Isis and Hitler but the God I know and the God I read about in the Bible loves everyone without question.”  He said “Okay, I don’t get it either but I will trust you.”

When Jesus calls Simon and Andrew to be his disciples, they dropped everything to follow him.  I thought the disciples that followed Jesus were the best of the best.  But what I learned is that to follow someone who was considered a prophet you had to be the smartest person in your village, and you would have to start studying the Torah when you were nine years old. 

If you were the best of the best at reading the Torah you then would study the prophets until you were fourteen years old.  If you were the best at studying the prophets you would find a Rabbi to teach you.  Then only the best students would be allowed to become a Rabbi.

Jesus changed that when he went looking for disciples, and he did not pick the best of the best.  Simon and Andrew had given up on their dreams at becoming a Rabbi, instead of studying they were fishing with their father.  Jesus searches out Simon and Andrew to become disciples.

This happens for each of us as well.  Jesus searches us out, and calls us.  If we were really honest we can admit that we are unqualified.  Jesus doesn’t pick the best of the best.  He picks us, imperfect people that we are.  We are the people that Jesus wants.  We can’t be Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, or The Pope.  We can only be us.  And God has come to us.

This means that we do not need to climb a ladder.  So the next time you hear someone say “A good Christian does ……..” you have permission to be suspicious of that person because there is no such thing as “good Christians”.  There is only us imperfect as we are receiving the grace of God.  We don’t deserve it because we are not the best of the best.

This is what Luther came to understand.  He found in the pages of scripture not an angry God who is mad because we can’t get up the ladder, but a loving God full of grace.

A God willing to come down and walk here on this earth with us.

A God with sand in his feet.

A God with the hair that smells like the sea.

A God who eats with sinners.

A God who calls fishermen to be his disciples.

A God who is for you and me.

I was in my first year of seminary when I was taught this and it changed my life.  I was scared to go to seminary because it was hard.

I was never the best student.

I was never the best athlete.

I was never the best looking.

I was never the most holy person.

I was just me.

And learning about God’s grace freed me from having to be anything other than the mess I am.

I didn’t have to climb the ladder any more.

I know that God comes to me.

God comes to you as well.  You don’t have to be perfect for God to love you, you do not have to be the best to follow God, you don’t have to climb a ladder to get into heaven, all you have to do is to be you and God is going to love you for that.  That is an idea that can change the world.

Homelessness in our Community

Gardner News Article for February 4, 2017

I went to seminary just outside of Philadelphia. It was great to be so close to a large city because there was always something for my family to do. We could walk to the train station, and within 15 minutes we could be most any place in the city.

On one of my frequent trips into the city I was running late and I arrived at the train stop with only about five minutes to catch the next train. I knew that if I was late it would be at least 30 minutes until the next train came.

I ran to the ticket counter and I stood in line. It went pretty quickly but as I got to the top of the steps to go to the platform I saw my train pull away.

To make the best of a bad situation I looked around for something to do, it was around lunch time so I made my way to a small pizza shop. As I walked there my eyes caught the glance of an older man who appeared to be homeless. I quickly looked away because I did not want him to think I was staring at him.

But while in line at the pizza shop he approached me and said “Excuse me sir.” I turned and saw a man who was most likely younger than he looked, who smelled like he has not showered in weeks and his cheeks were sunk in because he most likely has not eaten for a while.

“Yes?” I replied. “I was wondering if you could buy me a slice of pizza, I have not eaten for days.”

I looked at the cash I had in my hand and I looked in my wallet and at the menu. I realized I could buy a medium pizza so he could have plenty. I turned to him and I said “Only if I can join you for lunch.”

Surprised and excited he said “Yes.” I bought the pizza and we grabbed a table. He ate like he has not eaten in days and he did not talk much but he did answer a few of my questions. I found out his name was Derek and he lived his whole life in Philadelphia and he has been homeless for almost 10 years.

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